You have probably heard the saying “None of us are free, if one of us is chained.”
I had always understood it as poetry, meaning, “How can one be happy in their own heart while others suffer injustice?” But this statement has become literal truth in Thailand and for anyone associated with Thailand. As long as it is possible for Pai Daodin to be locked up, charged with lese majesty and facing 3 to 15 years in jail, simply for sharing a mainstream news article on Facebook, NONE of us are free—we are either censoring ourselves to the point of tolerating a dictatorship in silence—or in danger of becoming the next random victim of this crazy law or even worse, being killed by ultra-royalist vigilantes exactly like the KKK.
They can get us anytime because we are all as “guilty” as Pai. We have ALL done what he did. If you are reading my blog, you are no longer innocent.
In the first 11 days of this month, the junta’s crackdown on speaking the truth has reached a new level of extreme: 7 more people charged with lese majesty. Six were charged in one day (the most lese majesty victims ever charged in one day), and one was charged with 10 counts of lese majesty (the most counts any one person has ever been charged with). Before being charged, some of these victims were disappeared for a week by the military, so that their families didn’t know if they were alive or dead. Though I will never be distracted from my fight for Pai until he is freed, these cases are equally worthy of our attention. We can see that the junta feels no shame about their persecution of Pai, because these new cases combine the all the same heart-wrenching elements:
1) Most of the new lese majesty victims, like Pai, have been charged simply for sharing content written or posted by others;
2) like Pai, two are in the field of law;
3) two are just 23 years old, even younger than Pai (who is 25);
4) like Pai, several are human rights activists and/or pro-democracy activists;
5) and the person charged with 10 counts and facing a possible 150 years in prison is a HUMAN RIGHTS lawyer, who specializes in defending lese majesty victims, who recently stated that he is an expert in the lese majesty law and knows how object to things without crossing that line!
In most of the 7 cases, the “lese majesty content” shared by the accused seems to relate to a recently stolen historical plaque marking the end of absolute monarchy. It was located on the spot where Thai revolutionaries had announced the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. In the middle of the night a tent was put up over the spot on what looks to be a six-lane highway, all security cameras in the area were turned off, and the plaque was removed and replaced with a plaque that doesn’t even mention the end of absolute monarchy, and instead recommends that Thais love the King. The junta says they have no idea who stole the plaque, and that the question’s not that important. “Can’t we all just look to the future?” they beg. Anyone who complains or asks questions about the stolen plaque is detained or accused of lese majesty.
Imagine that in America, in the middle of the night, Independence Hall was renovated and turned into a museum for King George III. And when citizens reacted in horror, they were told that Independence Hall was never that important anyway. It’s just a building, not democracy itself, so stop fussing. And, by the way, those who continue to fuss over this nonissue will be jailed for 150 years.
This is the closest analogy I can think of. The lese majesty law does not just forbid us from shouting obscenities at the King (that I could probably manage to do.) Instead, we are being asked to ignore the erasing the history, the scapegoating of thousands, and the silencing of millions, so that Thailand can be run by a mafia.
The past few weeks have been very uncomfortable for me, as the circle of people directly affected by the escalating lese majesty witchhunt reaches people I know, including some who I am close to. Of the three men blacklisted by the junta, whose facebook followers can be thrown in jail, I consider Andrew MacGregor Marshall a friend, I have met and admire Pavin Chachavalpongpun, and I have never met the third, Somsak Jeamteerasukul, though I follow him on facebook. Among people in my own organization, the Thai Alliance for Human Rights, are those suffering heightened harassment in these past few weeks, as the junta seeks their extradition and threatens their families in Thailand over their statements made about the monarchy in the United States.
I can’t believe that even I, an American with no connection to Thailand, am beginning to feel the pressure. At night I worry: Will I endanger those who I am trying to help by stating the obvious things that need to be said?
As Executive Director of the Thai Alliance for Human Rights, I am supposed to use the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the guide in all our actions. And I can’t help but notice that Article 1 is now a little “edgy” in the current fearful political climate. Maybe I should include a huge warning in front of it.
Article 1: [WARNING: Possible lese majesty content! NOT SAFE FOR THAILAND]:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Afterall, human rights, equality, and democracy are what got Pai Daodin into the mess he’s in. He’s sitting in jail, while his parents fly to South Korea to pick up his 2017 Gwangju Human Rights Award.
Enjoy this song by Solomon Burke: