Lese majeste is a topic I have mentioned frequently on this blog. As Thailand waivers between dictatorship and dysfunctional democracy the spectre of the lese majeste law is ever present. It continues to be used as a political tool to limit free speech.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) held a forum discussing lese majeste on 24 May 2011. Speakers at the event included David Streckfuss, Sulak Sivaraksa and Ben Zawacki of Amnesty International (AI). Political Prisoners in Thailand (PPT) has a report on the event. According to the report Zawacki presented a new AI position on lese majeste.
He was followed by Zawacki, who despite presenting an account of AI’s position on lese majeste that was meant to suggest continuity, concern and activism, essentially outlined a new position. He said that everyone on lese majeste charges and/or convicted is considered a political prisoner (tell that to the U.S. State Department!) and that if there is no evidence of inciting violence or “violent words” or “intent,” then each person convicted is then a prisoner of conscience. This is a new statement on lese majeste. The most recent AI country report on Thailand concentrated on the Computer Crimes Act and not lese majeste. AI, and Zawacki in particular, have been under enormous pressure form activists and bloggers (PPT included) to come up with a credible position on lese majeste.PPT goes on to note that Zawacki faced some criticism during the question time. Zawacki responded to one of the questions by attacking the questioner. This led PPT to write, "If AI is to ever resurrect its already shattered mantle in Thailand, the next step is to remove Zawacki and appoint someone who is able to address vital human rights issues with transparency and openness."
Andrew Spooner recently published an excellent interview with David Streckfuss on the topic of lese majeste. Spooner asked Streckfuss about whether things might have been different if Amnesty had taken stronger action on lese majeste in the past. Streckfus responded,
Who knows what might have happened had Amnesty International taken a more forceful stance from the beginning. The main question now is how will Amnesty International make up for lost time and reclaim a modicum of respect from many activists and academic groups in Thailand — and abroad — who have quite rightly criticized the organization for taking a more consistent and forceful stand on the issue of lese majeste which, after all, as a matter of the right to freedom of expression, has traditionally been a core issue for Amnesty.I just sent another e-mail to AI questioning their policy on lese majeste in Thailand. Sadly I don't expect a reply. However, I did remind AI that as it advocates the universality of human rights there is no room for exceptionalism in dealing with lese majeste cases in Thailand.
Update: Siam Voices has a report about the FCCT forum which provides more details.