Wed, Jan 07, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Junta targeting theater group

‘A FOG OVER THE KINGDOM’:One activist of the Thai troupe group said the junta deliberately blurred lines between political dissent and perceived attacks on the monarchy


University student Patiwat Saraiyaem, center, is escorted by junta officials as he arrives at the Bangkok Criminal Court on Oct. 27 last year.

Photo: AFP

Forced overseas to avoid arrest for allegedly defaming the Thai monarchy, members of a theater group say the ruling junta has mired the kingdom in a witch hunt as it ramps up prosecutions under the nation’s notorious lese majeste laws.

Two people are already in custody for roles in a performance of The Wolf Bride — a satire set in a fictional kingdom — which sparked a cascade of complaints for allegedly slandering Thailand’s royal family.

Police are hunting at least six others for violating “112” — the feared article of the Thai criminal code that carries up to 15 years in jail for each count of insulting, threatening or defaming the king, queen, heir or regent.

Of those on the wanted list, at least two have fled Thailand, joining dozens of academics, activists and political opponents of the coup in self-exile amid a surge in “112” cases since royalist generals seized power in May last year.

“There’s a fog over the kingdom,” a member of the activist Prakai Fai (“Sparking Fire”) theater group at the center of the controversy said from outside of Thailand, requesting anonymity. “But we have to accept that Thailand still has laws that block critical opinions, laws that shut people’s mouths.”

The Wolf Bride was performed in October 2013, several months before the coup, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a student uprising at Bangkok’s liberal Thammasat University.

Student Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and Porntip Mankong, 26, face jail after pleading guilty to a breach of article 112 for their roles — as an actor and co-producer respectively. They have been in custody since their arrest in August last year. The case is just one of many driven through by a junta which says it must champion the monarchy — led by revered, but ailing 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej — while simultaneously reshaping Thailand’s political landscape.

However, the military has led Thai society down a dark path, according to the Prakai Fai member, deliberately blurring the lines between political dissent and perceived attacks on the monarchy.

“Anyone can report on anyone else. It [112] is being used as a tool to get rid of opposition,” the Prakai Fai member said.

Taking their cues from the junta, groups of royalist volunteers are scouring social media for potential violations — joining the ranks of state-trained “cyberscouts” who patrol the Internet.

The self-appointed Rubbish Collectors’ Organization and the Royal Monarch Alert Protection Network, which complained to police about The Wolf Bride, both have hotlines to report possible breaches of the law. In this atmosphere of surveillance, lese majeste charges and convictions are rising.

The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights said 18 new arrests have been made since the coup, echoing Amnesty International, which describes the number of new charges as “unprecedented.”

Those figures came before the arrest of several senior police officers — including relatives of former princess Srirasmi — in a corruption probe.

Many of them have been charged with royal defamation, while Srirasmi has been stripped of her title, a royal name she acquired through her marriage to the crown prince.

Recent 112 convictions include a taxi driver jailed for two-and-a-half years after his passenger recorded their conversation on a mobile phone, while a complaint has been leveled at a prominent historian for a speech on a Thai king who ruled more than 400 years ago.

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