“I believe that if English people used the words against Queen Elizabeth, they would have been jailed a long time ago,” Warong Dechgitvigrom of the ultra-royalist Thai Pakdee Group.
“But that’s just not true, because in Britain you can say pretty much what you want about the queen and you won’t go to prison,” Jonathan Head, BBC.
The exchange in a recent BBC report pretty much sums up how Thailand lives under the lies of ultra royalism. We have long pretended that Section 112, the lese majeste law, is politically democratic, morally righteous, and following international standards.
On the statute books since 1908, Section 112 carries a sentence of three to 15 years imprisonment per count for defaming, insulting, or threatening the king, queen, heir-apparent, heir-presumptive, or regent.
Let’s take a look at the facts
There is no lese majeste law in the United Kingdom. The last prosecution for such an offense against the monarchy was in 1715. That was 305 years ago, or 67 years before the Rattanakosin Kingdom’s establishment in 1782.
What’s more, the UK abolished the archaic law in 2010.
What’s the worst that came of it? Tabloid gossips, Monty Python skits, and The Crown on Netflix. Otherwise, the monarchy is hunky-dory.
Norway used to chop people’s heads off over lese majeste offenses, a standard execution method in the 1600s and 1700s. But as society evolved, the law became more humane. The Norwegian 1902 Penal Code provided a fine or up to five years of prison. There’s also an important note; the monarch had to order or agree to the prosecution, unlike in Thailand, where anyone can file charges against anyone.
Since 1905 however, there’s only one lese majeste case. In 1981, a member of the punk alternative culture (remember them?) threw a tomato at England’s Queen Elizabeth on a state visit. He missed.
In the 2005 Penal Code, Norway abolished lese majeste as a criminal offense.
In Japan, the 1947 Constitution abolished laws that made offending the emperor a crime. The last lese majeste conviction was in 1946. In a workers’ protest over the food shortage, Shotaro Matsushima, a communist factory worker, raised a sign that said: “I, the Emperor, have eaten to my heart’s content, but you, my subjects, should starve to death!”
He was sentenced to eight months for libel but was pardoned by an imperial amnesty immediately, in the new constitution’s spirit.
Lese majeste in developed democracies
In Demark, members of the royal family are protected under the libel law, just like everyone else in the country. The punishment is four months imprisonment. With one catch, the penalty could double when insulting a royal.
That’s a maximum of 8 months in prison, as opposed to up to 15 years in prison per count for Thailand’s Section 112.
In the Netherlands, the maximum sentence is four months.
In Spain, lese majeste is a little more serious, carrying up to two years of imprisonment.
Lese majeste in our neighboring countries
In Cambodia, the punishment is up to five years of imprisonment.
In Malaysia, an offense against the monarchy falls under the Sedition Act of 1948 and carries up to three years in jail.
In Brunei, the punishment is also up to three years in prison.
Saudi Arabia and Thailand
Lese majeste is more commonly used in Middle Eastern countries. But punishments usually do not exceed three years in jail.
There’s only one country that has harsher punishments than Thailand.
Saudi Arabia doesn’t have a penal code. It applies the Sharia Law. The punishments include public lashings, lengthy prison terms, and execution. Getting a suspect to confess includes torture.
So that’s something Thailand can be proud of. We’re more humane than Saudi Arabia when it comes to lese majeste punishments.
Read more about the usage of lese majeste around the world here.