Chulalongkorn University political scientist Ji Ungparkorn left Thailand last weekend, apparently to escape a lèse-majesté (injury to the Majesty) charge against him.
He was quoted in the London-based The Guardian newspaper as saying his reason for going to the UK was that he did not believe he would receive a fair trial in Thailand.
The 54-year-old political scientist, who holds dual Thai and British nationality is but one of an increasing number charged with lèse-majesté, the crime of exposing the King to “any sort of accusation or action“ and carries a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment. Their ranks include citizens of Thailand and foreigners, journalists and academics, bloggers and web board discussants
Ji was charged recently for lèse-majesté over the book “A Coup for the Rich” that he wrote shortly after the September 2006 military takeover. The charge against him arises from his argument in the book that the 2006 coup had some backing from the palace.
In a press release, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) unequivocally condemned, as a matter of principle and without regard to other factors, the application of lèse-majesté in Thailand in its current form as contrary to international human rights standards, and urged the Government of Thailand, through the offices of the public prosecutor, to at once cease all proceedings pending against persons charged with lese-majesty, and speed arrangements to see that those persons already convicted are promptly released from prison.
The AHRC argues that the charging and convicting of persons in Thailand with lese-majesty is not an issue of cultural relativity, but one of social control, making it difficult for people in Thailand to speak openly, evenly and honestly about a wide range of issues.
Currently, the wide interpretation of the lèse-majesté law in Thailand and the fact that anybody can lodge an accusation of disloyalty to the police - who are obliged to follow up on every charge lodged with them, is such that it is difficult even to speak of the people who claim to represent the royal family and act on its behalf, making the political process in Thailand an opaque and shadowy process to many observers.
Scoop World, “Time To Talk Openly About Lese-Majesty”, 12 Feb 2009, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO0902/S00241.htm
Mysinchew.com, “Thailand: Critic ‘Flees’ To ‘Escape’ Persecution” ,15 Feb 2009, http://www.mysinchew.com/node/21200?tid=14