The news that the military junta has defended the lese majeste and computer crimes laws is no news at all.
However, a series of letters that Khaosod came upon between Ambassador Sek Wannamethee, Thailand’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva and United Nations officials reinforces the junta’s claims – and by some earlier regimes – that such laws are somehow consistent with “Thai traditional and cultural values.”
In a very real sense, this claim matches the origins of the term “culture war.” The junta has used these laws in its efforts to enforce traditionalist and conservative values against those who favor more democratic, progressive or even bland liberal values.
We might note that Sek’s position reflects him being rewarded for his support of the regime and the draconian use of lese majeste over the past few years. One might say he’s just doing his job. But Sek is far more enthusiastic than that. He’s a cultural warrior for the military dictatorship.
As usual, Sek was disingenuous: “The lese majeste law, hence, to certain extent, reflects and accords with Thai traditional and cultural values with respect to the Monarchy. It is not aimed at curbing people’s rights to freedom of expression…”.
Of course, the law takes direct aim at freedom of expression, in public and in private, in the media, in literature, in art and among academics and students, and much more. It is a chilling means of political repression.
We might also ask whether “Thai culture” and its law protects dead kings, dead king’s dead dogs, past “royals” who may or may not have actually existed, minor royals and so on. Sek and the regime seem to think it does.
UN experts David Kaye and Michel Forst who “monitor freedom of expression and human rights defenders,” stated, in their letters:
We express grave concerns at the continued use of article 112 and of the Computer Crime Act against the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Thailand….
The letter singled out prosecution, detention and long prison sentences for those convicted under the law for “acts that appear to constitute a legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.”
It added that the United Nations is also concerned about such cases being tried in military courts in closed session, sometimes with no family members or public in attendance.
The letter noted that all public figures, including heads of state, “are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”
The UN experts cited 21 lese majeste cases, some already through the courts, others continuing is deliberately slow “legal” processes meant to elicit guilty pleas.
They also mentioned the illegal activities of the authorities when “investigating” these “crimes” and “trials” held in secret.
The military dictatorship has used lese majeste as a political and cultural weapon. It will continue to do so.