Lese Majeste is translated to English as “injured majesty”. The concept dates back to at least ancient Rome, making it a crime to insult the dignity of a reigning sovereign. You’d think such concepts would have left the statute books long ago, but not so. Known both for its rich history and its scandalous sex trade, Thailand still follows lese majeste. The law there imposes a sentence of three to fifteen years in prison for anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent.”
The most recent to run afoul of the law is Daranee Charnchoengailpakul. She is a former journalist, turned political activist, whose nickname is “Da Torpedo” for her bombastic speaking style. An open critic of the Thai monarchy, Daranee has been jailed since 2008 and just received the maximum 15 year sentence for violating lese majeste.
“Da Torpedo” is not alone though. Joe Gordon, living in Colorado at the time, published online excerpts from a Thailand-banned biography of the monarchy by Yale University Press. When he later visited Thailand, he was arrested, charged and eventually sentenced to two and half years in prison.
A 61 year old Thai grandfather got 20 years for allegedly sending four anti-monarchy text messages. His sentence was enhanced by adding a computer crimes charge to the mix. He swears he doesn’t know how to text.
These prosecutions are drawing international attention and rightly so, for their impact on free expression and suppression of dissent. The U. S. State Department has been among those to decry the abusive use of lese majeste. Now would be a good time to abolish the doctrine in its entirety.
Contributor, aka tidbits. Attorney in complex litigation, death penalty defense and constitutional law. Former Nat’l Board Chair: Alzheimer’s Association. Served on multiple political campaigns, including two for U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield (R-OR). Contributing author to three legal books and multiple legal publications.