Thailand's lese majeste laws explained
- 1 December 2014
- From the section Asia
Thailand's lese majeste laws are among the strictest in the world. BBC News explains what they are and how they are used.
What are the laws in Thailand against lese majeste?
The laws protect the most senior members of Thailand's royal family from insult or threat.
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 up to 15 years in prison.
This has remained virtually unchanged since the creation of the country's first criminal code in 1908.
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."
However there is no definition of what constitutes an insult to the monarchy.
And lese majeste complaints can be filed by anyone, against anyone, and they must always be formally investigated by the police.
Meanwhile, the details of the charges are rarely made public for fear of repeating the sin.
Critics say the room for interpretation is too wide and the penalties too severe.
Why does Thailand have these laws?
The monarch is central to Thai society. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is widely loved and often treated as a virtual god.
"The monarchy is above any conflict," Winthai Suvaree, a spokesman for the country's military rulers, was quoted as saying by AFP in June.
Thailand's ruling junta, which overthrew Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government, is seen as staunchly royalist.
The military took power on 22 May after months of anti-government protests, saying it would return stability.
In September, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha warned Thais not to be "misled" by anti-monarchy elements, according to the Bangkok Post.
Gen Prayuth stressed that the lese majeste laws were needed to protect the royals.
"His Majesty is not in a position to respond or explain," the premier was quoted as saying.
One of the justifications for the military couple in 2006 was that the then prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was undermining the institution of the monarchy - an allegation he vehemently denies.
Have these laws been used?
The law has netted an odd assortment of offenders over the years.
In 2007, Swiss national Oliver Jufer was jailed for 10 years after drunkenly spray-painting posters of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He was later pardoned.
And in 2011, a 61-year-old grandfather was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being found guilty of sending text messages deemed to be offensive to the queen.
The same year, a prominent opposition MP and Red Shirt leader, Jatuporn Promphan, was imprisoned after a complaint from Gen Prayuth (now the prime minister).
The internet has also increasingly posed a challenge to Thailand's leaders, with sites such as YouTube blocked in recent years.
Since the 22 May coup, the military government has prioritised prosecuting critics of the monarchy.
Human rights groups say the lese majeste laws have been used as a political weapon to stifle free speech.
Amnesty International condemned a Thai court's decision in September to uphold a 10-year sentence against social activist and former magazine editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk.
He was jailed last year over two articles deemed offensive to the royal family.
"Authorities in Thailand have in recent years increasingly used legislation, including the lese majeste law, to silence peaceful dissent and jail prisoners of conscience," Amnesty said following the ruling.
Thailand's strict lese-majeste law has over recent years been interpreted to cover even dead kings.
A prominent academic, Sulak Sivaraksa, has been accused of insulting the monarchy for remarks about King Naresuan the Great, who died more than 400 years ago.
Most recently, three senior police officers were charged under the laws, accused of making "false claims" related to the monarchy for personal gain.
It later emerged that they were among several relatives of the crown prince's estranged wife, Princess Srirasmi Akrapongpreecha, to be facing such charges.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has also asked the government to strip her family of their royally bestowed name in a move widely seen as a first step to divorce.