Thais probe US ambassador for royal defamation

US President Barack Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meet Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2012. Source: Wikimedia

The US ambassador to Thailand is being investigated for royal defamation over a speech he made in November.

Glyn Davies spoke at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok with the club confirming it was assisting the authorities with their investigations.

The envoy expressed concern about the long prison terms being handed out for violating the law of lèse majesté.

Those convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent face up to 15 years in jail on each count.

Lèse majesté convicts are treated as though they have committed serious security offences. “Two lèse majesté suspects died in October and November this year in a temporary military detention centre for national security cases, where they were held without proper detention safeguards,” Amnesty International said.

Two people were recently handed 28- and 30-year sentences each for Facebook posts which fell foul of the royal censors.

Davies praised King Bhumibol Adulyadej in his speech.

But he said the US was concerned about the “lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences handed down by military courts” in the cases, saying Washington believed no one should be jailed for peacefully expressing an opinion.

Davies has diplomatic immunity from arrest but Thailand can rescind his diplomatic credentials.

The ambassador only took up the post in October.

About 100 people have been charged under the archaic law since the military coup in May 2014.

UK ambassador Mark Kent has also angered the authorities by observing in a tweet the contrast between the authorities’ tolerance of protests outside the US embassy against Davies by yellow-clad royalists with the detention of numerous activists heading to protest at a military-built park glorifying Thailand’s monarchy. The six giant statues in Hua Hin have apparently cost US$1.7 million each and are allegedly shrouded in corruption.

Bangkok says it is studying Kent’s comment to determine if it warrants a formal complaint.

Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty’s senior director of research, said: “The authorities’ vicious application of the lèse majesté law has left dozens of individuals in jail for the peaceful exercise of their rights, with some facing military trials without the right of appeal.

“The fact that allegations of lèse majesté can be made for raising legitimate concerns highlight the current absurd extremes of Thailand’s restrictions on freedom of expression.”

Anyone can file a lèse majesté complaint in Thailand even though there are no public guidelines on what constitutes an offence.

The police say they are legally bound to investigate every complaint and an officer who fails to act upon a complaint may themselves be deemed to be breaking the lèse majesté law.

“The fact that the case against Glyn Davies has even entered the criminal justice system shows the shocking state of freedom of expression in Thailand, where citizens can face prosecution and many years in prison for any manner of innocuous ‘offences’ under this vaguely defined law,” said Gaughran.

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