A group of Thai royalists has protested at the United States Embassy and United Nations office in Bangkok over what they say is interference in Thailand’s internal affairs. The rally followed expressions of international concern about lengthy jail terms handed down for insulting the Thai monarchy, including to an American citizen.
More than one hundred Thai royalists demonstrated Friday afternoon in Bangkok.
At the U.S. embassy protesters held signs denouncing what they called interference by the U.S. and U.N. in Thai affairs.
Praise for controversial law
Others praised the Thai King and Article 112, a controversial law that protects the monarchy from defamation, known as Lese Majeste.
The rally was a response to criticism to the recent prosecutions and lengthy jail terms under the law and concerns about freedom of expression.
Baworn is with the royalist group United Siam and helped organize the protest.
He says the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney, criticized article 112. They consider this interference with Thai sovereignty and judicial process which, he says, meets international standards.
Lese Majeste - protecting the monarchy?
Under the law, anyone found guilty of insulting the King, Queen, or Crown Prince of Thailand is punished with a mandatory 3 to 15 years in jail.
The law is vague on what is considered an insult. Anyone can raise accusations and the police are obliged to investigate.
The domestic media and courts rarely publish details of cases for fear of being charged themselves.
Political analysts say politicians abuse the law, using it to silence opponents as well as public discussion of the monarchy.
Thai authorities argue the law is needed to defend the revered institution from those who wish to damage its image.
Housewife Suchada says she joined the rally to protect the monarchy and that it has nothing to do with politics.
She says the U.S. and Thailand should respect each other’s laws. The U.S. has its laws and Thailand has its laws. She says the U.S. should not interfere with our laws and our monarchy. Thai people, she says, cannot accept this.
US Embassy issues a statement
The U.S. Embassy issued a statement ahead of the Friday protest saying it respects Thai laws and does not take sides in Thailand’s internal affairs.
It also said the U.S. supports freedom of expression around the world and considers it a fundamental human right.
American citizen sentenced
Last week a Thai court sentenced Thai-American Joe Gordon to two and a half years in jail for posting links on his blog to a book about the King that is banned in Thailand.
It was the first time an American citizen was charged under the law and for actions committed while he was living in the U.S.
The U.S. Embassy called the sentence severe because he was sentenced for his right to freedom of expression.
Enforcement of the law
Since a 2006 military coup Thailand has seen a marked increase in the use and interpretation of the law.
In November a 61-year-old Thai man was given 20 years for sending text messages insulting the royal family.
Authorities brought charges against a website operator for not removing postings by bloggers quickly enough.
A Thai academic was charged for comments allegedly made about the king’s youngest daughter, who is not covered by the law.
Authorities have also threatened legal action against users of Facebook who click “like” or “share” on any pages or comments deemed offensive.