Appeal from a Thai dissident

January 13, 2009

Giles Ji Ungpakorn, an associate professor at Thailand's Chulalongkorn University, is facing the threat of prosecution and prison for the "crime" of speaking out in defense of democracy.

The Thai government, now in the hands of monarchists and supporters of the military's 2006 coup, have summoned Ungpakorn to a Pathumwan police station for questioning under a complaint that accuses him of "lese majesty"--essentially, "disloyalty" to Thailand's head of state, King Bhumibol.

Lese majesty is frequently used as a pretext to silence those who disagree with Thailand's ruling parties. According to the Economist, "Anyone can file a police complaint of lese majesty on the king's behalf, and the penalty is up to 15 years in jail." Apparently at issue is Ungpakorn's book, A Coup for the Rich, which he has made freely available for downloading from his Web site.

In the following statement released on his Web site, Ungpakorn explains the reason for the charges against him, and what people can do to take a stand in his defense.

I HAVE been summonsed to Pathumwan police station for questioning, and the new date and time is at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, January 20, 2009. The summons was issued as a result of a charge filed by Special Branch Police Lt Col. Pansak Sasana-anund. I have been accused of lese majesty. The charge arises from my book A Coup for the Rich, published in 2007, just after the September 19, 2006, military coup.

I have now sold all 1,000 copies of A Coup for the Rich, but it is available to download from this blog. It is also available from the International Socialist Tendency Web site in the U.K. Just after publication, the book was withdrawn from sale by Chulalongkorn University bookshop and later by Thammasart University bookshop. This is a gross attack on academic freedom. I encourage people to read my book and judge for themselves whether I should face criminal charges over this book. Relevant passages can be found in chapters 1 and 2.

My most recent academic paper on the monarchy appears on my blog. It 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. Their recent actions may be bringing the institution of the monarchy into crisis because they created an image of the monarchy being directly involved in politics. I presented a Thai version of this paper at the National Thai Political Science Conference at Chulalongkorn University in December 2008.

Thai police respond to anti-government protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy (Craig Martell)

The monarchy has been quoted and used by various political factions in Thailand to legitimize their actions. The most notable cases are the September 19, 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.

Lese majesty charges in Thailand are notorious for being used by different political factions to attack their opponents. Many believe that this law is actually counter-productive to defending the monarchy. This is why it is very important that political scientists attempt to analyze the real role and nature of the Thai monarchy in an atmosphere of freedom and democracy.

I am prepared to fight any lese majesty charges in order to defend academic freedom, the freedom of expression and democracy in Thailand.

Since this accusation was filed by a Special Branch officer, the present Democratic Party Government should be questioned about its role in this and many other cases. The new prime minister has stated that he wants to see a firm crackdown on lese majesty and many recent cases have been filed by the police. We must not forget others who face similar charges.

What you can do

Visit Giles Ji Ungpakorn's Web site for updates about the case and information about Thai politics. You can find a pdf version of Ungpakorn's book A Coup for the Rich at the Web site.

Write a letter of protest to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Government House, Bangkok, Thailand. Letters can also be faxed to +66(0)29727751.

Write a letter of protest to the Ambassador, the Royal Thai Embassy, 1024 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007.

Ask that Amnesty International take up all lese majesty cases in Thailand. Write to Amnesty International, 5 Penn Plaza, 16th Floor, New York, NY 10001, or e-mail [email protected]

I am also very aware that what I am suffering is a pinprick compared to the Palestinians in Gaza. Solidarity with Hamas and the Palestinian people!

Further Reading

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