Why is Pai Daodin’s case taking so long to decide? It took six months to go to trial and if history is any indication, it will drag on at least that long again before there is a verdict. He admits to sharing the Thai version of THIS BBC news article on Facebook, and left it up on his wall even after the lese majesty charge, saying he had the right to do so. Here is the Thai lese majesty law:
“Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”
So the only legal question that must be decided is: “Is it an insult to share biographical information about a King who happens to be living a really sleazy life ?”
For obvious reasons, the Thai government does not want this question debated openly in court. And they also do not want the international news story to be that Thailand convicted an innocent boy to 15 years in prison on a clearly ridiculous pretext (and, oh yeah, speaking of lese majesty, have you seen the video of that crazy Thai King at the mall?). They would rather the story be that a man pleaded guilty to insulting His Majesty the King (don’t mention his name and the world will guess it’s beloved King Bhumipol), who then graciously pardoned him so that he will be out of jail soon. (Don’t worry international community! Nothing strange and twisted going on over here!)
To get this desired result, the authorities will conspire to drag out the proceedings, which will be held entirely in secret, all the while pressuring Pai to plead guilty in return for a lighter sentence. Subjected to such treatment, most lese majesty defendants eventually give up and confess in hopes of getting the the shorter sentence and/or the chance to ask for a royal pardon. (They must plead guilty before asking for the pardon.) In order to get the royal pardon, they must offer the King an apology, preferably an abject public apology. This is the established pattern, and it constitutes a form of torture. Pai has said he will plead not guilty. But if he were to change his mind and go through the motions to get out sooner, those of us in the anti-lese majesty movement would totally back him in that decision because we know the charge to be nonsense and the situation to be outrageous, and because we value his freedom most of all.
In Thailand, there is no expectation of a happy outcome when the underdog takes on the powers-that-be. Instead people express the the fear that the regime will manage to break the spirit of yet another good person. Other victims of the lese majesty law have said that their persecution led to depression and feelings of hopelessness, and they feel abandoned because former friends hurried to distance themselves (probably out of fear of also being accused). Families are also severely affected. Only one week after the bittersweet victory of Pai’s Gwangju Human Rights Award in South Korea, Pai’s mother was back to crying quietly outside his prison, waiting for 15-minute visits with her son. Pai’s father may be the saddest-looking man I have ever seen: on Facebook he looks thin and tired–and mad as hell. He vows his family will not succumb to grief and will keep fighting. As for Pai, his mood is up and down: “Sometimes he is well. Sometimes he shows anger towards the injustice of his case. Sometimes he said he wanted to get out.”
Pai will often flash a brilliant smile that looks incongruous as he stands in in his orangish-pink prison pajamas. At a recent visit by international friends in a “Bring the World to Pai” event, he rose his fist and told his visitors to encourage everyone to to carry on their struggle for freedom and democracy. This is the human spirit that no one has a right to crush . . . but they might do it anyway.
The UN has protested Pai Daodin’s arrest in the strongest terms, raising the possibility that Thailand’s 50 to 100 cases lese majesty cases a year, may reach the level of crimes against humanity. The lese majesty witch hunt is a widespread, state-sponsored, systematic attack on a segment of the society for the purposes of political repression, involving kidnappings, forced disappearances, and unjust imprisonment. As such, it completely fits the definition of crimes against humanity. Though not as lethal as a genocide, the lese majesty law ruins countless lives and poisons all of society by hunting down those who challenge propaganda.
If Thailand wants to keep its claim to being a civilized society, it needs to repeal this law. A first, face-saving step would be to scale back enforcement to levels of 30 years ago, when only 2 or 3 people a year were charged under this archaic and indefensible law. The recent revision of the Computer Crimes Act could serve as a model for this deescalation. And free Pai Daodin!*
*For google searching purposes, know that ไผ่ ดาวดิน Pai Daodin’s real name is จตุภัทร์ บุญภัทรรักษา Jatupat Boonpattararakasa, and that is nickname is most often spelled Pai Dao.