Over 30 pro-democracy activists (and still counting) are charged with Section 112, Thailand’s lese majeste law. The law carries the punishment of three to 15 years of prison on each count for the crime of insulting, defaming, or threatening the king, queen, heir, or regent.
With the recent development, it’s timely to go through the history of laws that protect our country’s monarch and the monarchy.
(The primary source of information comes from this iLAW article.)
With a new kingdom, a new body of law was needed.
King Rama 1 established the Rattanakosin Kingdom in 1782, which lasted until the 24 June 1932 Revolution by Khana Ratsadon that transformed the country from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy.
His Majesty ordered the enactment of the Three Seals Law, which was completed in 1805. The law criminalized three types of offenses against the king.
For the fearless arrogance and crude words that insult or defame the king’s order or decree, the punishments included decapitation and confiscation of property / cutting off the lips, ears, hands, and feet / flogging with a leather whip 25 to 50 times / 30 days imprisonment and forced labor to feed elephants / a fine of four times the wealth and relegation to peasant status / a fine of twice the wealth/ a fine the total wealth / probation.
For insulting the king, the punishments included decapitation and confiscation of property / confiscation of wealth and forced labor to feed elephants / flogging with a leather whip 25 to 50 times.
For the nobility members who insult the king, the punishments included splitting the mouth until death / cutting off the lips / flogging with a leather whip 25 to 50 times / strip of ranks and titles.
King Chulalongkorn introduced a series of reforms.
During the reign of King Rama V, or King Chulalongkorn, who received a western education, the kingdom underwent a series of reforms, including the body of law.
In the year 1899, the law regarding an offense to the king was amended.
For slander and/or libel against the king, queen, or heir, or any public denouncement of the king, queen, or heir through inappropriate words, the punishment was no more than three years imprisonment and no more than 1,500 baht fine.
In 1908, the law was once again amended. For threats and insults against the king, queen, heir, or regent, the punishment was no more than seven years imprisonment and no more than 5,000 baht fine.
Here were some other laws that protected the monarchy.
For threats or insults against the king’s sons or daughters, past or present, the punishment was no more than three years imprisonment and/or no more than 2,000 baht fine.
For acts of disloyalty against the king, the punishment was no more than three years imprisonment and/or no more than 1,000 baht fine.
For the teaching of political and/or economic theories that lead to the insult, defamation, or hatred of the king, the punishment was no more than ten years imprisonment and/or no more than 5,000 baht fine.
In 1927, in the context of political changes worldwide and the media industry’s growing influence, another law was added.
The law covered any media publication that directly or indirectly insulted or incited hatred against the king. The writer and the publication owner faced the punishment of no more than five years imprisonment and/or 5,000 baht fine.
With constitutional monarchy came an important exception.
Following the 1932 Revolution, regarding media publications critical of the king, the punishment was no more than seven years imprisonment and no more than 2,000 baht fine.
However, there’s an exception. If criticism of the king was within the constitution and intended to offer an honest view for the public good, then there’s no crime.
With a military dictatorship, the law was again upgraded.
In 1956, during the second rule of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkram, Section 112 was introduced.
It stated that the insult, defamation, or threat against the king, queen, heir, or regent shall face the punishment of no more than seven years imprisonment.
Following the 6 October 1976 military coup by Admiral Sangad Chaloryu, Section 112 was amended to its present form: three to 15 years imprisonment.