In the twenty-first century, when Thailand is one of the most prosperous countries in Southeast Asia, there is a crime in this country from another time: the crime of lese-majesté. A former civil servant has just realized how serious it is. Anchan Preelert was tried this week by the Bangkok Criminal Court for sharing an audio clip in 2015 on social networks criticizing the previous King Bhumibol who died in 2016 and his son, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Thailand sentences civil servant Anchan Preelert to 43 years in prison for sharing audio clips that criticized the monarchy.
– UN Watch (@UNWatch) January 20, 2021
According to the law that protects the monarchy from all defamation, article 112, this 65-year-old former tax official has committed 29 offenses, including sharing the extract. The crime of lese majesté is punishable by 3 to 15 years in prison per offense. At a minimum, Anchan Preelert risked 87 years in prison, a sentence ultimately reduced by half, because the accused pleaded guilty. She still receives 43 years in prison, it is the most severe sentence ever pronounced in the kingdom for insulting the monarchy. Her lawyer says she can appeal.
This convicted official is not part of the movement of young Thai people who have been calling for more democracy since last summer. But the sentence is clearly a message sent to the protesters. The crime of lese majesté is a real political weapon that power draws when it suits it, whenever it senses political or popular unrest. While article 112 had not been used for two years, 41 demonstrators including two minors have been prosecuted since the start of the protest.
In December, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said “deeply concerned” by the increasing use of article 112. The government defends itself: the militants are free to demonstrate but in a “constructive and beneficial for society”, and without criticizing, calling for hatred or defaming.
At the start of the pandemic, as his country entered containment, Rama X, whose real name is Maha Vajiralongkorn, preferred to go to a luxury hotel in Germany. Stirring up controversy, both in Bavaria and in Thailand, he returned. And for a few months, he has not moved from his kingdom, and even made declarations of love to the Thais.
Last week, he was seen in jeans, basketball and polo shirt in several prisons across the country sweeping the floors and talking to officials and inmates. Unpublished images which aim to calm the raging anger and show him closer to the people. He was accompanied by his mistress (his official concubine who was deposed and then reinstated).
Vajiralongkorn’s concubine Sineenat “Koi” Wongvajirapakdi spent ten months at the Central Women’s Correctional Prison at Lat Yao after angering the king. Now she and Vajiralongkorn appear to have made a documentary about charitable work with prisoners there. pic.twitter.com/zht1mwGs5O
– Andrew MacGregor Marshall (@zenjournalist) January 10, 2021
But this charming operation does not make us forget the eccentricity of this monarch eager for omnipotence. Since his accession to the throne, in 2016, upon the death of his father, he has strengthened his powers and taken control of the royal fortune, estimated at 30 billion euros.
The demonstrators, who no longer march in the streets because of the Covid-19, demand a modification of the Constitution, the departure of the Prime Minister, the control of the king’s fortune and the abolition of the crime of lese-majesté. There is no indication that they are being heard. Threats are one way, as a Thai expression says, to “cut the neck of the chicken to scare the monkey”.