Thailand has some of the world’s strictest laws against criticizing the country’s monarchy, with up to 15 years in prison for each offense. At an exhibition in New York this week, which featured the stories of 25 people prosecuted under the law, the Thai King’s disavowed son came and told reporters he was there to learn about the issue.
Vacharaesorn Vivacharawongse, the second son of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, now lives in New York City and attended the opening of an exhibition at Columbia University, “Faces of Victims of 112.” The exhibit features the stories and portraits of 25 people prosecuted under Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté law, Article 112 of the criminal code.
His appearance marked the first time anyone so closely linked to the monarchy has openly paid attention to activism against the controversial law. Vacharaesorn is one of the four sons of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 71, and his second wife, Sujarinee Vivacharawongse (formerly known as Yuvadhida Polpraserth), whom he married in 1994. After the couple divorced, Vajiralongkorn disavowed Vacharaesorn, his three brothers and mother. His sister remained in the royal fold.
Exhibition creator Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic charged under Section 112, now lives in exile in Kyoto, Japan. At the opening, he told VOA Thai that the exhibition is trying to raise international awareness of a law frequently used by Thailand's previous government backed by the military to silence dissent in the name of protecting the Thai royal family.
The former prince announced on his personal Facebook page that “as a Thai living in New York, I will attend (the exhibition),” and that “I love and revere the institution (monarchy).”
VOA Thai was able to ask the 42-year-old two questions. The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity:
VOA Thai: Why do you attend this exhibition?
Vacharaesorn: I came (to the exhibition) because, from my personal opinion, it is better to know than not to know. Everyone has their own opinion and viewpoint, based on their experiences. It does not matter if we listen to them or not, they will still hold on to their opinions. So, not listening to them will not change their views in any way.
Then, knowing is better than not (knowing). It is each person’s decision to agree or not. Still, listening to them and being aware of it all is the best thing (we can do).
VOA Thai: What is your view on Section 112?
Vacharaesorn: Section 112 is a sensitive issue (in Thailand). People have different opinions about it and we cannot say who is right or who is wrong. What matters is that we listen to each other, to the reasons. You can have your own (reasons), but listen to theirs and reflect them on ours.