Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Tul Sittisomwong : « Behind the calls for reform of the LM law, there is a hidden agenda”
Question : What do you think about the call for reforming article 112 ?
Tul Sittisomwong : The group which asked for reform of article 112 claims that the punishment is too severe, with a minimum sentence of three years and a maximum sentence of 15 years, which is different from other countries with a monarchy. I agree with some reforms, because some actions should not be punished by three years in jail. But for some other actions, if they are only punished by three years, it is too little. It is a little bit weird that the law covers dirty talk about the king as well as not standing up during the royal anthem. But some people are telling lies about the king, they should be punished more strongly.
So for myself, I think there should be a distinction : if you act like this, you get one, two or three years ; if you act like this, you are punished five to ten years ; if it is something which disturbs national security, it should be higher than ten years. It should be proportionate to the action.
Another thing is when somebody is personally defamed, he usually file charges at the police station by himself. But because the king is the Head of State, he can not be involved with the criminal court. Now, anyone can file charges if there is offense to the king. So, I also agree that there must be some control system, like a committee to consider the complaints. If some Thai knows about someone who did something wrong in connection with LM, he has to send the complaint to that committee first. And if the committee considers that there is a case, he would send it to the attorney general.
People calling for reform of article 112 are also focusing on these two points : the severity of the law, and the fact that anyone can file a case. So, in a way, you agree with them ?
Yes, I agree with that. Now the Peua Thai party is the government, but most of the supporters are Red Shirts and they ask for abolishment of article 112. So we are afraid that if there is a reform of this article, it is going to be eliminated instead of being reformed in order to become more appropriate. That is why I think it is better right now not to do anything about article 112. Even if the punishment would be life sentence or death sentence, I would like to ask anyone willing to commit LM, why are you doing it ? Why ordinary people would tell lies about the king ? It is not about freedom of expression. And the fact is : the Thai King serves Thai people. He has never makes anyone suffer. But because of some broadcast program or internet stories saying “He is doing that, he is involved in this”, and the people believe it. And they talk about the freedom of expression ? Ok, it is freedom if you dislike him, if you dislike the monarchy, but if you announce it publicly, it is going to be punished as in other countries all over the world. The US, Japan, England, every country has a law to protect the Head of State ; it is a question of national security. If you say it is LM, another term is “protecting the Head of State”, but the range of punishments is different from country to country.
Fifty years ago, the punishment was zero to seven years imprisonment. At that time, the LM act in Thailand said, if you infringe upon this act, you should be punished not more than seven years. But in 1975, there was an expansion of communism, and communism tried to get rid of the monarchy system in Thailand. That is why a dictatorial regime appeared. The head of the dictators group changed the punishment from less than seven years to three to fifteen years, and we used it since then.
In the case of Ah Kong, it seems that he did not intend to do anything bad. Still, he was sentenced to 20 years in jail.
First of all, I think that for ordinary people, if they do their job normally, no one would be punished. Secondly, I recognized it was used for political means, but there are very few cases. But after the Thaksin Era and the Red Shirts movement, they give more and more thought to pure or total democracy without the monarchy system. So it is not because more and more people all over the country dislike the king or the monarchy. It is because some political groups try to be number one in Thailand. There is a plan. The number one of Thailand is not the Prime minister, but the King. So they try to get rid of … I think it is a plot. They claim that now the number is surprisingly high, but I think it is not the true number, it is a plot. And the effect is incorrect quotes or lies about the king, it is incorrect information, but some people believe it.
OK, the monarchy or the royal family is not totally correct. There is something… It is not 100 % correct. So if you pick up something wrong to overrule the good side of the monarchy, I think it is not fair. And I think the monarchy is still important for Thai lifestyle and culture.
You know, I think Thai people are not strong enough to stand on their own feet. Especially for politics, they are manipulated by politicians. If some politicians help them with money and other things in life, it is Thai style to pay back by paying respect to them. So the vote is not a free vote, it is different from your country. So we can not get the appropriate representatives through the Thai elections. Many modernized countries ask for free vote, free elections, democracy without monarchy… I and many Thai still believe that democracy with monarchy is suitable and appropriate for Thailand, because it fits Thai people. Thai people are different from French, from British, if Thai would be strong enough like French or British, OK, we may change by still keeping monarchy but differently from now, through a gradual change, not an abrupt change. But the situation now is that some are asking for abrupt change just to support their leader Thaksin Shinawatra… If it would happen anywhere else in the world, in France, in Europe, in the US, these supporters would be jailed.
Do you think the Thai monarchy has to modernize, to become more transparent, more accountable ?
Are you asking if the monarchy has to adapt by itself or through peoples’ suggestions ?
By anyway. Isn't it an old institution which has to adapt as anything else ?
Maybe, you have missed the 2005 King’s speech. He talked about this issue and said that he did not want anyone to be punished for lèse-majesté. And he said he can do wrong and he can be criticized. But on the other hand, in my opinion, the criticisms must be reasonable, not telling lies or trying to provoke abrupt changes like they are doing. If these criticisms are reasonable and aiming at improving monarchy and the country, I agree with that. We have to consider these criticisms on a case by case basis, looking at what is their objective : do they want political change or do they want to make things better ? The ones who want to improve, I think they are not going to be punished. Even if you have to fight the case in court, you can talk to the judge and tell your beliefs and your proposals to make things better, I think everybody can consider it.
Uncle SMS was sentenced on four counts, each with five years, which give a total of 20 years. Many countries and organizations consider that it is too severe. They only look at the punishment but never consider why some ordinary people are doing that. It is not because they have hatred for the king. It is an anti-monarchy team who sent the SMS to the secretary of the former PM Abhisit. Why ? I am sure there is some conspiracy. If one person dislikes the monarchic system, he will not act this way. He would send the message to everybody, on internet.
What do you think of General Prayuth Chan-Ocha remark that people calling for reform of the LM law should go to live outside of Thailand ?
Many people who love the king and the royal family say this for a long time. They are ordinary people. But when the Army Chief says that, it is something, a big thing. I understand what he thinks, his objective. He has no right to push these people away from the country. The objective is not according to the words. You should not put too much into his words. What he tried to say is that the royal family is important and inspire respect in Thailand. He means : instead of speaking about the harshness of the punishment, why are you not trying to avoid committing offenses ? I think it is what he has in his mind, but his personality is straightforward. He thought about this for a long time. Journalist asked him many times this question, so he said : OK, if you talk about this, go away !
About the Freedom of expression, in international agreement, you have some mention that this freedom has to go along with accountability and that your expressions of opinion should not defame other persons or destroy society, national security or the morals. There are some limitations because you live in a society. You are not alone in the world or in the country. This LM law is clearly written for a long time, everybody knows it. So those who ask for reform or to eliminate the law, most of them are not looking to improve things. There is a hidden agenda of getting rid of the monarchy. It is against international agreements.
I think the way to solve this problem is that it is widely discussed, not emotionally, but rationally. But it never happened, like during a seminar in Thammasat, there was a Red Shirts group asking “Get rid of this LM law”. Peaceful talks never happened.
Interview done by Arnaud Dubus