The Law of Lese Majeste and the Sad Tale of Amphon Tangnoppaku
I subscribe to a lot of news feeds about internet filtering, oppression and stuff like that – yep I’m real popular at parties! It can be tough sometimes to read it all, the number of tales of persecution tales rises nearly every month. However the story of Mr Amphon Tangnoppakul (or Akong to his friends) always makes me particularly sad.
I initially read about him from one of the Asian Human Rights News reports, these are excellent and report all sorts of human rights incidents from all across Asia. Although I sometimes skip over some of these, one Saturday night my mind was focused due partially to a wonderful bottle of Shiraz from Australia and I did some research on one of their reports about Akong.
The story is based around a law based on a criminal offence first highlighted in Ancient Rome. It’s called Lese Majesty (or injured majesty) and it refers to the rather vague crime of violating a sovereign ruler. You’ll still find it on the statute books of loads of European countries, although thankfully it’s rarely used there. The UK actually last used the law in 1715.
Yet unfortunately Akong didn’t live in a Western democracy, he lived in Thailand and in November 2011 his retirement was cruelly curtailed by a twenty year prison sentence based on Lese Majesty. He was accused of sending ‘insulting text messages’ concerning the Royal family of Thailand to the personal secretary of the previous president.
So just to clarify, Akong received a 20 year prison sentence for supposedly sending a total of 4 SMS messages slagging off the Thai Royal family (that’s five years per message).
Here’s the beautiful Queen of Thailand one of the targets of the supposed SMS message. So I’m guessing that saying – ‘fat old cow with a rubbish hairstyle’ will mean that I’ll get a 5 year sentence if I ever visit Thailand.
There are a few tiny flaws in the prosecution case –
- Akong claims he never sent the texts
- He doesn’t own the mobile phone that was used
- He has no idea how to send an SMS
Lots of people around him are convinced he was completely innocent, however this is Thailand a place where there is minimal respect for either the constitution or human rights. We can’t be completely sure of course, but it does seem Uncle SMS as he has been dubbed was convicted more as a scapegoat or a warning to those who are critical of Thailand’s royal family.
But I’m afraid the story ends up with an even sadder ending, after 20 months in custody on these contrived charges Uncle SMS died from the oral cancer he was suffering with. Even before his conviction, he was denied bail 8 times because he was considered at risk of absconding. How they consider an old man with advanced stage of oral cancer such a big risk is of course not a reflection of reality but more the disregard that Thailand has for human rights.
The law still stands in Thailand, available for persecuting anyone saying anything remotely bad about the fabulously wealthy Thai royal family particularly online. There are hundreds of other cases awaiting trial as well including one of a webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn who is accused of taking too long to delete Lese majeste material placed on one of her sites.