I traveled to Thailand after I was granted acceptance into Thammasat University through ISEP (International Student Exchange Programs). I was to attend the Prachan campus, which is just a few minutes walk from the Grand Palace.
Thammasat was originally founded as The University of Moral and Political Sciences by Thai politician Pridi Banomyong (statue pictured below). If your looking for a university that holds a rich, politically involved history, then look no further than TU. With a massacre incited against students by the police and paramilitary groups in 1976, it is no stranger to violence and political strife.
What began as protests against the returning military dictator, Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, ended with some estimates citing over a hundred fatalities. Due to the ever-increasing Communist takeover of the Indochina region at the time, some Thai’s considered the protesting students to be aiding the “enemy”. I mention this event in order to explain a political issue within Thai society that is known as lèse-majesté (Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code). This law has been used past and present by governing bodies and leaders of Thailand.
Known as the criminal offense of violating majesty, lèse-majesté has been a policy carried by the Thai government since 1908. Every constitution of the country since its first in 1932 has contained the clause, “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.” Despite the fact that no member of the Thai Royal Family has ever filed a lèse-majesté charge, there have been an ever-growing amount of cases being brought to trial in the country since 2006. This could be said to result from the increased polarization of politics caused by the 2006 coup d’état that deposed then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in combination with heightened fears over the actual health of King Rama IX (Bhumibol Adulyadej). Forbes has estimated Bhumibol’s fortune to be over 30 billion USD, and with the crown prince being quite unpopular within the country, it could be seen that the military junta’s takeover is a measure to maintain authority over the country. Time will tell.
Needless to say, the point here is that in a freely functioning society, discourse and dissent must not be punishable by law. Essentially, it should be encouraged as a means to keep government honest and transparent. Article 112 is dangerous, pure and simple. This combined with the censorship efforts undertaken by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), can make for a stark device of oppression. Following the 2014 coup d’état, General Prayut has since become Prime Minister of the country. The military junta has repealed parts of the country’s constitution, declared martial law alongside nationwide curfews, arrested and detained politicians, academics and anti-coup activists, imposed even greater internet censorship, and took control of the Thai media. I am feel quite uneasy in the future of Thailand unless control of the country is given to a democratically elected body of Thai citizens. How can one discuss critical issues and progress as a society if it is considered to be taboo and not allowed? Think about it.
Factoid: Amnesty International, an NGO that defends human rights, regards those imprisoned in Thailand for insulting King Bhumibol as political prisoners.