For a number of months I have been covering the abuses of power of Thai government, specifically in the case of lèse-majesté laws which prevent people from openly criticising the monarchy. Under Thailand’s military junta insulting the monarch as an individual or the monarchy as an institution can result in fines or even imprisonment. The new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, could have instructed the junta not to enforce these laws and, given how sycophantic the military is towards the monarchy, the king’s wishes would be carried out. However it appears that these liberty-restricting laws shall remain in place, and activists will be persecuted for speaking out.
Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, known as Pai to his friends, is a prominent activist who is accused of sharing something on Facebook that the authorities deemed as offensive to the monarchy. The article Jatupat is accused of sharing was from the BBC which gave a profile of the new monarch, some of which was regarded as insulting the new king. According to Jatupat’s lawyer, a court in the northeastern town of Kohn Kaen has agreed to put the activist on trial.
The justification for the trial is the violation of these lèse-majesté laws, however it’s also noteworthy that Jatupat is a prominent anti-junta activist. It is very possible that Thai authorities are using these pernicious laws to silence someone who is a threat to their own power, and thus are not motivated by pro-monarchy righteousness. Irrespective of the motives of Thai authorities, Jatupat’s story must be widely shared around the world so that people are made aware of the abuses of the Thai government.
In Western countries, when people think of authoritarian regimes they think of Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, possibly somewhere in Africa. Thailand does not often spring to mind, and this is because not enough press attention is given to the crimes of the Thai state. If the machinery of government is weaponised to protect someone’s feelings, we should publicly ridicule them without fear. We have the freedom to speak out against oppression and we should use it to call out the anti-democratic practices of the Thai government.
How does one go about challenging the power of the Thai state? Raising awareness about this issue is important but knowledge alone will not bring about democracy in Thailand. Economic sanctions and a boycott of Thai products would be a way of exerting pressure on the governing junta. Thailand is a sought-after tourist destination. It is estimated that the industries directly and indirectly related to tourism amount to approximately 20% of the entire country’s economy. In order to force the Thai government to begin respecting civil liberties, tourism is the area that needs to be attacked, not with bombs and bullets but with cold hard cash. Pulling tourists and investment out of Thailand will severely weaken their economy and drive social change.
The reason for my sustained criticism, and often repetition of points, is a desire on my part to deride and expose bad ideas. Not being allowed to insult someone because of who their father was is arbitrary and repulsive. When Bhumibol Adulyadej died last year, I called for Thailand to become a democratic republic, but at very least I would have welcomed an end to these lèse-majesté laws. It appears, however, that lèse-majesté laws under the new king are here to stay, and we need to continue resisting these oppressive measures. There are brave people within Thailand who are speaking out against these laws and getting punished for it, and so the least I could do is stay the course and continue talking about the Thai government’s draconian practices.