Giles Ungpakorn, a socialist activist and academic in Thailand, is facing a possible prison sentence after Thailand's Special Branch charged him with "lèse majesté" - insulting the monarchy - last month.
The charges are based on eight paragraphs in the first chapter of his book, A Coup for the Rich, which was published in 2007. It has sold 1,000 copies and is now available online. In it he criticised the coup of 19 September 2006, in which the military seized political power in Thailand.
Ungpakorn says, "My most recent academic paper on the monarchy argues that the monarchy is not all powerful and that political and military factions claim royal legitimacy in order to boost their own power and interests. The most notable cases are the 19 September 2006 military coup and the illegal protests by the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy, which included violent protests and the shutting down the international airports. Lèse majesté charges in Thailand are notorious for being used by different political factions to attack their opponents."
The clampdown on political and academic debate in Thailand affects writers, protesters and bloggers. The Economist reported that one female Thai activist was sentenced to six years in jail in November for a speech at a rally in Bangkok and that "Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, the justice minister, is creating a 24-hour 'war-room' to monitor online threats. Thousands of websites have been blocked for alleged lèse-majesté, though anti-censorship groups say the net is cast wide to stifle political debate. Some Thai bloggers have been detained after posting rebellious comments."
Lèse majesté carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, and MPs from the government party headed by Abhisit Vejjajiva, which came to office thanks to the connivance of the army, want to increase this to 25 years.
Giles says, "I am prepared to fight any lèse majesté charges in order to defend academic freedom, the freedom of expression and democracy in Thailand." Academics and supporters from all over the world have joined in a campaign to defend Giles.
This case is significant not only for Giles himself but also for the future of academic and political freedom in Thailand.
What you can do:
- 1) Write a letter of protest/concern to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Government House, Bangkok, Thailand. Fax number +66 (0)29727751.
- 2) Write a letter of protest/concern to the Ambassador, The Royal Thai Embassy, in your country.
- 3) Demand that Amnesty International take up all lèse majesté cases in Thailand.
- 4) Demand the abolition of the lèse majesté law.
The print edition of A Coup for the Rich can be downloaded from
Giles Ungpakorn's blog.