TV show challenges Thai law in rare debate on monarchy
A TELEVISION show is testing the boundaries of controversial laws protecting Thailand’s monarchy, drawing a rebuke from the army chief and criticism from a government minister who ruled out changes to the country’s draconian lese-majeste rules.
Thailand’s 85-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is often portrayed as an almost divine figure, but this view is hard to challenge when the world’s toughest lese-majeste laws can make anything deemed an insult or a threat to the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
State-owned Thai Public Broadcast Service (Thai PBS) broadcast a rare debate starting last week on the merits and otherwise of the lese-majeste law, featuring a historian, a former foreign minister, a self- proclaimed “ultra-royalist” and an opponent of the monarchy.
Part of one episode in the week-long series covered the nature of public loyalty displayed towards the monarchy and whether it was genuine, something rarely questioned. Another episode showed a heated debate between the ultra-royalist and the critic on whether the lese-majeste laws should be amended.
Protests from ultra-royalists prompted the television station to delay airing the fifth and final episode on Friday. But it went out, unadvertised, on Monday evening.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of the army which is seen as a bastion of royal support and has a long record of intervention in politics, questioned whether the programme was appropriate given recent political conflict.
“The TV show and its contents are allowed by law but we should consider if it was appropriate. If you think Thailand and its monarchy and its laws are making you uncomfortable, then you should go live elsewhere,” Gen Prayuth said yesterday.
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled by the military in 2006, when he was accused of republican sympathies, which he denied. His sister, Yingluck, is prime minister and has refused to meddle with the lese-majeste laws, despite pressure from some in the pro-Thaksin “red shirt” movement.
Even though the king said in 2005 he should not be above criticism, the number of lese-majeste cases has mounted dramatically during the political turbulence that followed the 2006 coup against Mr Thaksin.
A government minister repeated yesterday the administration would not touch the law.
“I agree with what Prayuth said,” deputy prime minister Chalerm Yoobumrung told reporters. “The government doesn’t agree with changing Thailand’s laws protecting the monarchy.”
Somchai Suwannaban, the director of Thai PBS, said the country needed an open debate on the law.
He said: “The law protecting the monarchy is being debated underground. We need constructive public debate to preserve the monarchy as it is an essential part of Thai culture.”
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