Siam Silences: Lèse-majesté laws are for finks

Thailand’s king Bhumibol Adulyadej has died, age 88.  He had been a popular ruler who managed to hold the respect and get cooperation from all political sides in Thailand, from military juntas to the corrupt Thaksin Shinawatra, and even the muslim separatists in the south. He was the world’s longest reigning monarch at the time of his death.

Unfortunately, what actually needed to die didn’t.  There’s nothing less majestic than lèse-majesté laws.  Lèse-majesté laws are as obscene, pointless and cowardly as laws against blasphemy.  They serve no purpose other than to silence valid criticism or discussion.  (Simply discussing who will be named the next king of Thailand could be enough to get you arrested, never mind insulting the king or his family.

I have no issue with slander and libel laws protecting royal families the same way they protect the average citizen.  But it should never be illegal to talk members of a royal family or their actions (the 2001 mass murder of the Nepalese royal family by prince Dipendra, the British royals and their involvement with Jimmy Savile and Nazi Germany).  It should never be off limits to discuss the policies or decisions of monarchs (vis-a-vis Bhumibol’s political deals with Thailand’s military juntas).

The only difference between monarchs and gods is that monarchs exist.  Neither deserves special privileges and protections that lèse-majesté and blasphemy laws give them.  If they want to be respected, they should act in ways that will earn them respect, not require police, courts or governments to use brute force and violence to silence people.

Another reason to be annoyed with today’s new: the most popular member of the royal family is princess Sirindhorn.  However, Thai laws only allow for kings.  The Thai government isn’t likely to change the law quickly to let her become queen.