Thailand -Lese- Majeste law

Lèse-majesté is an offence or defamation against the dignity of a ruling head of state, could be traditionally a monarch or now a president or the state itself.

The Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayuth Chan-ocha, insists, that the lese-majeste law is needed to protect the royals. The monarch plays a central in Thai society. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October 2016 after seven decades on the throne, was widely revered and sometimes treated as a god-like figure. He has been succeeded by his son, Maha Vajiralongkorn, who does not enjoy the same level of popularity but is still accorded a sacrosanct status in Thailand. The military, which overthrew the civilian government in May 2014, is staunchly royalist.

Article 112 of Thailand's criminal code says anyone who "defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent" will be punished with a jail term between three and 15 years. This law has remained virtually unchanged since the creation of the country's first criminal code in 1908, although the penalty was toughened in 1976. The ruling has also been enshrined in all of Thailand's recent  constitutions, which state: "The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action."

Lese-majeste complaints can be filed by anyone, against anyone, and they must always be formally investigated by the police. As per the United Nations, those arrested can be denied bail and some are held for long periods in pre-trial detention. Trials are routinely held in closed session, often in miliary courts and are charged with multiple offences and face extremely long jail terms.

Though the law has been around for a long while, the number of prosecutions has risen and penalties have grown more severe since the military took power. The Human Rights commission mentions the number of people investigated for lese-majeste has risen to more than double the number investigated in the previous 12 years. Only 4% of those charged in 2016 were acquitted. There has been a wide range of offenders, from a grandfather who sent text messages deemed insulting to the queen, to a Swiss national who drunkenly spray-painted posters of the late king. People have also been arrested for lese-majeste over online activity, such as posting images on Facebook of the late King Bhumibol's favourite dog, and clicking the "like" button on Facebook on posts deemed offensive.

The social network in fact faced a ban in Thailand in May 2017 for failing to block illegal content including alleged lese-majeste posts, although authorities later backed off.

The UN said that since the military coup in 2014 the number of people investigated for violating the lese-majeste laws has risen to more than double the number investigated in the previous 12 years, and that only 4% of those charged were acquitted.

Trials are routinely held in closed session, often in military courts where defendants' rights are limited. Earlier this month a man was given a 35-year sentence for Facebook posts judged to have defamed the monarchy, the harshest penalty to date.

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