Hundreds of Thai royalists called for U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney to “get out” of the country after a State Department official questioned the conviction of an American for insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Siam Samakkhi, which means United Siam, submitted letters to the UN and U.S. today urging them to avoid commenting on the lese-majeste law, group member Tul Sitthisomwong said. About 200 members of the organization, waving royal flags and holding pictures of King Bhumibol, shouted “Kristie get out!” in front of the embassy in Bangkok today.
“Each country has the right to limit rights or discussion in order to protect national security and peace,” Tul said in an interview. “To keep peace and good contacts between the U.S. and Thailand, they should avoid interfering in the Thai justice system.”
Increased debate over the lese-majeste law threatens to rekindle political discord that has led to street violence over the past three years in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy. About 100 activists denounced the law on Dec. 10 in a protest in Bangkok, online news outlet Prachatai reported.
King Bhumibol, who turned 84 earlier this month, took the throne in 1946 and serves as head of state. Thailand’s constitution says the king “shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated.”
U.S. citizen Joe Gordon, who was born in Thailand and also goes by the name Lerpong Wichaikhammat, received a 2 1/2-year prison sentence on Dec. 8 for translating an unauthorized biography of King Bhumibol and posting it on a website. Two weeks earlier, Ampol Tangnoppakul, 61, received a 20-year jail term for sending four text messages that defamed Queen Sirikit.
The lese-majeste law mandates jail sentences as long as 15 years for defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir apparent or regent. The UN human rights office last week said the law had a “chilling effect” on free speech and called for it to be amended.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Dec. 8 the U.S. is “troubled by the outcome” of Gordon’s case. The European Union delegation in Thailand said Nov. 28 it was “deeply concerned” about Ampol’s sentence and urged Thai authorities to uphold freedom of expression.
“The United States government has the utmost respect for the Thai monarchy, the royal family and Thai culture,” the U.S. Embassy said today on its website. “We respect Thai laws and do not take sides in Thailand’s internal affairs. We support freedom of expression around the world and consider it a fundamental human right.”
A posting yesterday on the U.S. embassy’s Facebook account received more than 3,300 comments from users debating the lese-majeste law, with some circulating violent images directed at Kenney. The embassy asked users to refrain “from using language that is profane or abusive.”
Tul said he was “disappointed” with the threats of violence on Facebook, adding that supporters of the lese-majeste law “should ask the U.S. government politely and give another point of view.”
Protesters today carried signs that said “Kristie Kenney Shut Up” and “If You Not Accept Please Get Out.” The group sang the national anthem and a song praising the king before departing after about 45 minutes.
The “protest was peaceful” Kenney posted on her Twitter account and “included respectful conversation with Embassy staff.”
Tul warned of a “conspiracy” aimed at changing the lese-majeste law and said his group would continue to resist efforts to amend it.
“Attacking 112 is just the first step,” Tul said, referring to the lese-majeste law, which falls under Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code. “If there is no 112 then they will move to get rid of the monarchy from Thailand completely.”
The number of lese-majeste cases before the lower courts increased to 478 last year from 33 in 2005, a year before the coup that ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, according to statistics compiled by David Streckfuss, an academic based in northeast Thailand who has written a book on the laws.
“We are concerned about the ongoing trials and harsh sentencing of people convicted of lese majeste in Thailand,” Ravina Shamdasani, Geneva-based spokeswoman of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a Dec. 9 statement. “Such harsh criminal sanctions are neither necessary nor proportionate and violate the country’s international human rights obligations.”
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, took power on Aug. 9 after her Pheu Thai party won a majority in July elections. Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung said Dec. 14 the government would spend 400 million baht ($12.7 million) to purchase legal intercept technology that can block websites that insult the monarchy.
King Bhumibol’s picture is hung in the majority of Thai homes and a royal anthem praising him is played before movies in theaters across the country.