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Thailand might have to repeal its royal defamation law

Posted May. 17, 2023 07:55,   

Updated May. 17, 2023 07:55


With the Move Forward Party sweeping to a stunning victory in the 2023 Thai general elections, all eyes are on whether the party’s first campaign pledge of monarchy and military reforms may actually be delivered. “The sentiment of the era has changed. And it was the right timing,” the Move Forward Party’s leader Pita Limjaroenrat said, reiterating that he will not compromise on his push to end Thailand’s lese-majesty law (Article 112 of the Criminal Code).

Thailand has some of the world’s strictest laws against defaming or criticizing the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent, among 43 monarchies in the world. Anyone who violates the law can face up to 15 years of imprisonment. The law is criticized for failing to clearly define what constitutes lese majeste and the scope of defamation. In Thailand, people accused of the crime are often denied bail and subject to a closed or military trial.

The law is increasingly criticized that it is used to intensify censorship of the government. Ever since King Maha Vajiralongkorn took the throne in 2016, he has suppressed critical voices toward the monarchy under the pretext of the crime of lese majeste. In March, a woman who shared a graffiti of anti-monarchy slogans on YouTube was sentenced to 87 years in prison. The sentence was later commuted to 43 years and six months after she admitted to the crime.

The royal defamation law also serves as a justification for a military coup. In 2006 and 2014, the military junta identified its reason for a coup to prevent a democratic government’s attempt to reform the monarchy.

Yet the prospect for reform of Article 112 of the Criminal Code remains vague, as a majority of the Senate and House (500 seats of the House and 250 seats of the military-appointed Senate) has to vote for the bill. Currently, only 292 seats of the House are claimed by the opposition parties led by the Move Forward Party.