Proud to be a Republican

This is a post about Thailand, not the U.S.

In the Thai context, republican means literally in favor of a republic, as opposed to the current constitutional monarchy, in which the head of state is the Thai King, currently Bhumibol Adulyadej. In principle I don’t mind if a country is a monarchy, so long as the monarchy has no real political power. That, sadly, is not the case in Thailand, where the institution of the monarchy has been utterly politicized, and over the past twenty years increasingly so.

Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code makes lèse-majesté a crime. In recent years, this code has increasingly been used by Thailand’s political leaders as a tool for silencing the country’s opposition.

It is for this reason that I am proud to have signed a solidarity letter in support of the Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 and the amendment proposal made by the Khana Nitirat (here’s an English link). I’ve posted the entire press release below:

Over 200 international scholars, writers, and activists support the call to reform Article 112

For immediate release

1 February 2012

Noted international scholars, writers, and activists support the call of the Campaign Committee to Amend Article 112 (CCAA112) to reform Article 112 in line with the amendment proposed by the Khana Nitirat.

In an open letter to Thai prime minister Her Excellency Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, these 224 international scholars, writers, and activists express grave concern over the use of Article 112 and the erosion of the basic rights of those who face charges under it. The signatories affirm that “Article 112 has become a powerful tool to silence political dissent, and in particular, any dissent interpreted as disloyalty to the monarchy.”

Dr. Kevin Hewison, Professor of Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Thai studies expert observed that, “The political abuse of the lèse majesté law is associated with a precipitous deterioration of human rights in Thailand. Censorship, self- censorship and charges of disloyalty seriously restrict the freedom of expression.”

The signatories support the CCAA112 and the amendment law because “reform is necessary to protect the basic rights of Thai citizens and support the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law.”

The proposed amendment would make the punishment for alleged lèse majesté proportionate to the crime, limit who can file a complaint to the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary rather than any citizen, differentiate sincere and truthful criticism from threats to the monarchy, and categorize violations of Article 112 as about the honor of the monarchy, rather than national security.

“We were thrilled that so many distinguished thinkers and activists from around the world have joined with us in this letter in support of the reform of Article 112. They show our courageous Thai colleagues who are seeking reform that they are not alone. This issue is, and will be, closely monitored internationally,” said Dr. Rachel Harrison, noted scholar of Thai cultural studies commented.

The signatories of the letter include (full list appended) distinguished scholars, writers, and activists from 16 countries and territories: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, UK, US.

For more information (English/Thai), please contact:

* Tyrell Haberkorn, +61-4-1137-4735 (Australia) tyrell.haberkorn@anu.edu.au

* Kevin Hewison,+ 65-8212-0655 (Singapore), khewison@unc.edu

I know that the Thai government doesn’t give a flip what sorts of documents I sign. But I also know that things like this matter. You can be sure that 60+ Cornell undergrads will learn whatever I want to teach them about Thai politics, without regard to whether or not the Thai government finds it offensive, and that’s how it should be.