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09BANGKOK325 LESE MAJESTE ARRESTS AND ACTIONS AGAINST WEB CONTENTON THE RISE, BUT RISK BACKLASH

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“190767”,”2/6/2009 10:19″,”09BANGKOK325″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”SECRET//NOFORN”,

 

“08BANGKOK140|08BANGKOK3350|08BANGKOK3398″,”VZCZCXRO4701

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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY”,”S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 000325

 

NOFORN

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP, DRL, IO; NSC FOR PHU

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/05/2019

TAGS: PHUM, PGOV, KPAO, KJUS, TH

SUBJECT: THAILAND: LESE MAJESTE ARRESTS AND ACTIONS AGAINST

WEB CONTENT ON THE RISE, BUT RISK BACKLASH

 

REF: A. 08 BANGKOK 00140 (THAI COURT)

B. 08 BANGKOK 003398 (UPDATE)

C. 08 BANGKOK 3350 (UPTICK IN ANGER)

 

BANGKOK 00000325 001.2 OF 004

 

Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason 1.4 (b) and (d).

 

SUMMARY AND COMMENT

——————-

 

1. (C) Legal action in the courts and against websites on

grounds of lese majeste, or offense to the monarchy, have

seemingly increased under the new Democrat-led coalition

government, with both the Justice Minister and the

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Minister

having stated publicly that combating lese majeste violations

is their top priority. Those recently charged, arrested, or

convicted include Marxist Professor Giles Ungpakorn, website

commentator Suwicha Thakor, and \”redshirt\” supporter Bunyuen

Prasoetying. For its part, the ICT Ministry has flagged over

10,000 URLs that contained content deemed offensive to the

monarchy, with 2,000 such URLs already blocked. The

Bangkok-based distributor of The Economist halted

distribution of an issue for the third time in two months due

to an article which touched on the alleged role of the

monarchy in politics.

 

2. (C) Comment: While the political crisis that gripped

Thailand the second half of 2008 has disappeared from the

streets for now, the deep gulf in Thai society and the body

politic remains, and the eventual fate of the monarchy is one

of the key cleavage lines. The struggle by many parties for

position and advantage in shaping public perceptions in

anticipation of the passing of the revered King, a potential

messy succession involving the far less respected Crown

Prince, and the almost certain redefinition of the role of

the institution of monarchy continues unabated.

 

3. (C) Comment, continued: Many of the Democrat Party leaders

who have moved into top government positions are

cosmopolitan, well-educated people who nevertheless appear to

be facilitating growing efforts to clamp down on forms of

speech critical of the monarchy. Whether that is primarily

out of personal conviction or political advantage, or both,

remains unclear. Thailand has a reasonably strong and active

civil society, however, that promotes changing societal

attitudes towards traditional institutions and behavioral

norms; this issue will not be easily swept under the carpet.

Broad-brushed efforts against all unflattering mention of the

institution, King, Queen, and Crown Prince through crude

application of the blunt instrument of lese majeste laws,

without distinction between those who actually intend ill

towards the monarchy and those expressing opinions which

otherwise would not find an audience, may end up undermining

the institution the law is meant to protect — an unintended

consequence akin to the People\’s Alliance for Democracy\’s

(PAD) extreme actions in 2008 and the Queen\’s ill-advised

patronage of the October 13 funeral of a PAD demonstrator.

End Summary and Comment.

 

LESE MAJESTE: A MATTER OF NATIONAL SECURITY?

——————————————–

 

4. (SBU) Justice Minister Pirapan stated to the press

January 14 that protecting the monarchy was his top priority.

He referred to the monarchy as \”the pillar of national

security,\” and explained that \”freedom of speech might have

to be compromised for the sake of national security.\”

Pirapan called on January 24 for the MFA to instruct

Thailand\’s diplomatic missions abroad to launch public

relations campaigns about lese majeste laws and the legal

repercussions for insults to the monarchy, according to the

media. In similar fashion, ICT Minister Ranongrak

Suwanchawee has said publicly that blocking websites with

 

BANGKOK 00000325 002.2 OF 004

 

content offensive to the monarchy is her top priority.

Ministry sweeps of the Internet had flagged over 10,000 URLs

that contained content offensive to the monarchy, and 2,000

such URLs had already been blocked.

 

5. (C) The Senate established the \”Special Senate Committee

to Follow-up on Enforcement of the Lese Majeste Law\” January

23 in a 90-17 vote. The committee, proposed by Senator

Khamnoon Sitthisamarn and headed by national police chief

Patcharawat Wongsuwan, is intended to ensure the enforcement

of laws and articles relating to the protection of the

monarchy, in a move that some human rights activists termed

as \”McCarthy-like.\” The committee appears to have already

established a Thai-language website, http://www.protecttheking.net,

which provides an online form for people to report lese

majeste.

 

6. (C) For its part, the Army maintains a special unit tasked

with tracking and identify lese majeste offenses through

24-hour sweeps of websites, according to a leading NGO

activist with close ties to security forces (see Ref C for an

earlier description of such a military effort). The Army

unit works closely with the Department of Special

Investigations (DSI), had superior surveillance technology

than the ICT Ministry, aimed to focus on \”high-profile\”

offenders with the highest audience reach, and was known to

visit them at their homes, according to the expert.

 

COMMENTS, PHOTO POSTED TO INTERNET LAND BLOGGER IN JAIL

——————————————— ———-

 

7. (S/NF) Department of Special Investigation (DSI) police

arrested oil rig engineer Suwicha Thakhor on January 14 after

seizing his computer equipment. Media reports alleged that

Suwicha\’s employer fired him following the arrest, and he

remained in prison without bail after police deemed him to be

at risk for repeating his online remarks. An NGO expert

familiar with the case told us on January 30 that Suwicha had

posted something \”really bad\” about the Crown Prince and had

included pornographic photos of the Crown Prince\’s consort,

Princess Srirasmi. (Note: two sets of nude photographs of

Srirasmi, believed to have been taken at the Crown Prince\’s

direction before being leaked, started circulating in

Thailand in 2007. Similar photos of the Crown Prince\’s latest

mistress have recently started circulating on the internet,

according to several contacts who claim to have seen them.)

 

8. (S/NF) Suwicha, similar to activists Bunyuen Prasoetying

(below) and Daranee Charnchansinlapakun (ref B), was denied

bail, denied immediate access to a lawyer, and confessed

before having such access, according to the NGO expert.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX told him that police had extracted a

confession from Suwicha after they threatened to bring the

Crown Prince to the jail for a face-to-face meeting.

 

9. (SBU) Widespread online and print media coverage of

Suwicha\’s arrest prompted Justice Minister Pirapan

Salirathavibhaga to request on January 15 that all lese

majeste-related arrests not be disclosed. Pirapan reportedly

instructed DSI to help stem media coverage of any radio

station closures, website censorship, or arrests related to

lese majeste.

 

MARXIST ACADEMIC CHARGED

————————

 

10. (C) Special Branch Police (SBP) charged Chulalongkorn

political science professor and self-proclaimed Marxist Giles

\”Ji\” Ungpakorn with lese majeste on January 20 based on

several paragraphs in his 2007 book \”Coup for the Rich,\”

publication of which Ungpakorn claims police attempted to

block through intervention with Chulalongkorn University.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX SBP had warned him that a quote

 

BANGKOK 00000325 003.2 OF 004

 

from Paul Handley\’s banned book \”The King Never Smiles\” was

problematic. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX cited the

Handley\’s text to refute it as hearsay, but it is well known

that restating material deemed to violate lese majeste is

treated as an offense in its own right. Giles XXXXXX has

traditionally attacked all elements of the traditional Thai

elite, including all political forces without distinction,

XXXXXXXXXX despite earlier pressure from Special Branch,

formal charges did not surface until the inauguration of a

Democrat-led government.

 

11. (C) XXXXXXX blamed the looming prospect of succession

within the monarchy for the surge in lese majeste cases,

believing that the authorities sought to stifle dissent that

might undermine support for the monarchy, even as quiet

public concern grew over the Crown Prince\’s possible

accession to the throne. XXXXX characterized lese majeste

charges as a fear tactic that left individuals with long-term

cases to manage and caused hardship for family members. XXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXe was willing to fight an open political

campaign against the criminalization of lese majeste and had

planned a world-wide public relations blitz. (note: U.S. and

UK professors have circulated a petition among academics

world-wide in support of Ungpakorn and started a website

intending to raise awareness of his and other cases. A human

rights expert told us February 4 that Giles\’ famous

surname–his father was one of the revered 20th giants of

Thai civil society–and connections made him ultimately

untouchable, in contrast to less influential and more

vulnerable critics such as Suwicha).

 

UNDER THE RADAR, UDD SUPPORTER SENTENCED TO SIX YEARS

——————————————— ——–

 

12. (C) United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD)

supporter Bunyuen Prasoetying was sentenced to six years\’

imprisonment on November 6, after having been held without

bail since August 15, for remarks made at a pro-Thaksin rally

earlier in 2008. However, media reports of the sentencing

did not surface until January 7, when online news media site

Prachatai.com reported the story. To our knowledge, no

Thai-language printed news source reported on the conviction;

online blogs and other websites provide links to the

Prachatai.com report.

 

\”THE ECONOMIST\” THAI DISTRIBUTOR SELF-CENSORS

———————————————

 

13. (C) XXXXXXXX the Thai distributor of The Economist,

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX had chosen not to distribute a third

issue in the last two months (December 6, January 24, and

January 31) due to sensitive content related to the role of

monarchy in politics. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

that Asia Books had to comply with Thai laws and thus had

withdrawn the controversial material. XXXXXX confirmed to us

that no political or law enforcement pressure influenced Asia

Book\’s decisions in this matter (note: the December 6

edition, with the King on the cover, aggressively questioned

the role of the monarchy; the January 24 edition republished

the passage which had led to the conviction of Australian

author Nicolaides (ref A); and the January 31 edition

referred to the Queen\’s intervention in politics).

 

THAI NETIZENS: REALITY DEFEATS PM\’S GOOD INTENTIONS

——————————————— ——

 

14. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX told us on January 23 XXXXXX

had initially felt optimistic about the new Democrat

Party-led government following a XXXXXXXX meeting with

Prime Minister Abhisit. She described Abhisit as \”diplomatic

and open,\” stating that he had \”no intention to amend\” the

Computer Crime Act. Abhisit reinforced this message at his

 

BANGKOK 00000325 004.2 OF 004

 

mid-January appearance at the Foreign Correspondent\’s Club

(FCCT), when he asserted the draft bill, promoted by the

Justice Minister with the support of other Democrat Party MPs

and intended to significantly strengthen lese majeste

provisions, was not his priority. Her organization intended

to find a \”non-confrontational\” way to address growing

concerns about civil liberties online, perhaps via a working

group of ministries and civil society groups. The charges

against Ungpakorn, the sentencing of Nicolaides, and the

arrest of Suwicha had tempered the initial optimism, XXXXX

added.

 

FRIENDLY FOREIGNERS FLAG CONCERNS TO PALACE INSIDERS

——————————————— ——-

 

15. (C) Several private Americans with long-term experience

in Thailand and good connections with palace insiders weighed

in \”as friends\” February 3-5 out of concern that the

increased application of lese majeste, without distinction

between those who mean ill towards the monarchy and those who

otherwise would be ignored, ran the risk of undermining the

very institution the law seeks to protect, and which they

feel has served Thailand well through the decades. The

reception to the message was mixed. Privy Councilors Prem

Tinsulanonda, Surayud Chulanont, and Siddhi Savetsila thanked

one U.S. businessman for the \”very good advice; we\’ll take it

seriously.\” The reaction from the Crown Property Bureau to a

similar approach by a second businessman was completely

negative; the self-described friend of the monarchy remarked

afterwords: \”these people live in an alternate reality.\”

JOHN

Written by thaicables

June 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Lesse Majesty, Secret

2 Responses

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  1. […] our series on leaked cables, a Wikileaks cable dated 6 February 2009, by Ambassador Eric John, notes the rising tide of lese majeste […]

  2. […] ในซีรี่ย์ของ บทความของวิกิลีกค์, เคเบิ้ลของวิกิลีกค์ วันที่ 6 กุมภาพั…โดย […]


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