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Cablegate: Update On Lese Majeste Cases in Thailand

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OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #3398/01 3230929
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 180929Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5098
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY
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RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 5068
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RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 5862
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RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 003398

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP, DRL, IO; NSC FOR PHU

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/11/2018
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KPAO KJUS TH
SUBJECT: UPDATE ON LESE MAJESTE CASES IN THAILAND

REF: A. BANGKOK 3374 (THAI WEBSITES)
B. BANGKOK 3350 (QUESTIONING THE UNQUESTIONABLE)
C. BANGKOK 1662 (LESE MAJESTE ACCUSATIONS)

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Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission James F. Entwistle, Reason 1.4 (
B, D)

SUMMARY AND COMMENT
-------------------

1. (C) Thailand enjoys a relatively robust media environment,
lively, open criticism of those in power, and general freedom
of expression, with a significant exception: the criminal
offense of lese majeste, or offense to the monarchy. Long on
the Thai books but not always vigorously pursued, a seemingly
higher number of lese majeste cases are currently open,
mainly against Thai political activists, but also against
several foreigners as well. For example, a well-known social
critic was arrested on November 6 for remarks made in 2007
about the monarchy. The denial of bail for two detained
United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) figures
who allegedly committed lese majeste reportedly caused
several other activists to leave Thailand out of concern
they, too, might be arrested. This cable is the third of
three reports examining lese majeste; the first two (refs
A-B) looked at a recent surge in criticism of the monarchy,
particularly on the internet about the Queen, and the
reaction of Thai officials.

2. (C) Comment: King Bhumibol has said publicly that he will
pardon anyone convicted of lese majeste. However, those who
are accused of the offense can be subject to lengthy and
highly ambiguous procedures, and the authorities do not apply
standards consistently. While the remarks that lead to lese
majeste charges are often not made public (any further
dissemination of offensive remarks can constitute a crime),
the local media has publicized arrests for lese majeste, and
this publicity helps to deter open debate about the monarchy
and its role in society. End Summary and Comment.

Lese Majeste - a tool for whom?
-------------------------------

3. (SBU) Thailand enjoys a relatively robust, open and lively
media environment, with a significant exception being the use
of ""lese majeste"" laws against any statement deemed critical
of the monarchy. Because Thai lese majeste law allows any
party to file complaints, not just the institution of the
monarchy itself or the police, those suspected of or charged
with the offense vary widely in standing and perceived
intent. Many of those currently facing lese majeste
accusations are players in the ongoing political drama, with
the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and
UDD accusing each other of offense to the monarchy. Lese
majeste complaints are an effective way to enmesh a political
opponent in extended litigation. Others who are accused are
social activists, and some are unsuspecting foreigners.
According to Embassy research, in consultation with UDD
leaders and NGO contacts, the status of lese majeste cases
against figures associated with the UDD and PAD is as follows.

UDD Members:

- Co-leader Jakrapob Penkair: surrendered to police on June
12 due to lese majeste charges filed based on a speech given
at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) in
August 2007. The speech condemned the Thai patronage system,
which traditionally benefits the monarchy, but did not
contain any insult to living members of the royal family.
Released on bail; case resides with the OAG.

- Co-leader Wira Musikaphong: surrendered to police on August
16 following the issuance of an arrest warrant on August 15
due to an alleged anti-monarchy speech at a UDD rally at
Sanam Luang in May 2007. Released on bail; case under
investigation with the Metropolitan Police Department.

- Chanwit Chariyanukun: arrested in November 2007 for
distributing anti-monarchy leaflets; detained for seven days

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before police granted bail at $5,900 (200,000 Baht).

- Daranee Choengchansinlapakun: remains in detention after
being arrested on July 22 for alleged statements critical of
the monarchy at a July 18 and 19 rally at Sanam Luang; bail
denied. See ref B for more detail concerning her case.

- Bunyuen Prasoetying: remains in detention after being
arrested on August 15 for allegedly criticizing the Crown
Prince at a UDD rally at Sanam Luang on August 6; bail denied.

- Chuchip Chiwasut: arrest warrant issued on August 21 due to
allegedly critical remarks about the monarchy and the royal
family on his community radio program and website; reportedly
fled to China.

- Suchat Nakbangsai: arrest warrant issued on October 17 due
to alleged criticism of the monarchy at a UDD rally at Sanam
Luang on October 14; reportedly fled to a neighboring country.

PAD Members:

- Co-leader Somkiat Phongphaibun; surrendered to police on
July 16 in response to an arrest warrant issued the same day
due to alleged anti-monarchy remarks about a school supported
by the King at a PAD rally on June 29; bail granted. (See
ref C.)

- Co-leader Sondhi Limthongkul; surrendered to police on July
24 in response to an arrest warrant issued on July 23 based
on repeating the remarks of UDD figure Daranee (above) at a
PAD rally. Previously charged with lese majeste in April and
May 2006 due to speeches at PAD rallies; bail granted in both
cases. (See ref C.)

Where Are They Now? Updating previously reported cases
--------------------------------------------- ---------

4. (C) The lese majeste cases of activist Chotisak Ongsoong
and his girlfriend, Songkran Pongbunjan, charged with not
standing for the King's Anthem, remain with the OAG, pending
a November 20 decision by the public prosecutor on whether or
not to forward the cases for court proceedings. Chotisak and
Songkran told us on November 14 they are not required to
report to the OAG since the police ""temporarily"" released
them without seeking any bail. However, they will need to
post bail if the case moves to court.

5. (C) Same Sky Magazine editor Thanapol Eawsakul told us on
November 14 that his lese majeste case, which involved an
article by noted social critic Sulak Siwlak (ref C, see
below) remained with the OAG, and he continued to make
bi-monthly visits to appear at the OAG to sign a form.
Thanapol could not account for the different treatment
between his case and that of Chotisak. He suspected that his
case would linger with the OAG without any clear conclusion.
He explained that a verdict either way in either case could
mount increased public opposition and challenges to the
monarchy.

6. (C) An investigation is ongoing into the lese majeste
accusations against former Royal Thai Police Chief Seripisut
Temiyavet (ref C) who was charged after he made rude
statements when asked about his absence from a royal
ceremony. The Civil Servant Commission told us on November
14 that a committee was formed to investigate Seriphisut's
alleged offense. The official declined to release any
information on the status of the investigation due to the
""sensitive and confidential"" nature of the issue.

7. (C) BBC reporter Jonathan Head (protect) told us on
November 3 that the police decided not to investigate further
the lese majeste charges against him in conjunction with the
August 2007 FCCT panel discussion he hosted, but will ask him
to testify against UDD co-leader Jakrapob regarding the
latter's speech at the event. Head added that ""the way these
cases are dealt with completely baffles me - the line of
investigation taken by the police, and the line of defense by
our lawyers, is bizarre.""

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8. (SBU) Australian author and long-time Thailand resident
Harry Nicolaides remains in prison, after being arrested at
the airport on August 31, due to lese majeste charges over a
paragraph in his 2005 novel Verisimilitude that commented on
the Crown Prince's sexual behavior. The Bangkok Criminal
Court refused Nicolaides bail on September 2 on the grounds
that he presented a flight risk and the serious nature of his
offense. Media reports indicated that only 50 copies of the
book were printed, and under ten copies sold.

Sulak: Seventh Time's the Charm?
--------------------------------

9. (SBU) Khon Kaen province police apprehended Buddhist
scholar and social critic Sulak Siwalak (ref C) at his home
in Bangkok on November 6, based on remarks delivered to Khon
Kaen University students in December 2007. The police drove
him five hours away to a Khon Kaen province police station to
file lese majeste charges. Police released Sulak on bail,
and he departed for England on November 7 for previously
scheduled travel, with plans to return to Thailand at the end
of the month. Since Sulak's departure, he published an
opinion piece in the Bangkok Post about his ordeal, painting
his arrest as a political move by the pro-Thaksin government
and reaffirming his positive past ties with various members
of the royal family. Sulak must report to the Khon Kaen
province police each month until the public prosecutor
decides whether to forward the case to the Office of Attorney
General (OAG).

10. (C) Sulak's lawyer, Somchai Homla-or, told us on November
13 that Sulak had been accused, charged, arrested, and/or
prosecuted regarding lese majeste offenses multiple times,
starting in 1967, and again in 1984, 1991, 1996, 2005, 2007,
and 2008. Somchai said that Sulak has always escaped
conviction; the charges are inevitably dismissed by either
the police, the public prosecutors, or the courts.

JOHN

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