Thai officials are enforcing Lèse-Majesté laws, already the strictest in the world, more aggressively than they have in decades
Thailand's first female PM Yingluck Shinawatra after receiving the royal command appointing her as the country's new premier / Reuters
Over the past five years Thailand's Lèse-Majesté law, by far the strictest in the world, went from being scarcely used to being used an extraordinary number of times annually. According to a group of Thailand scholars, statistics from the Office of the Judiciary show a 1,500% increase in Lèse-Majesté cases in the past six years. In addition, Thailand has in recent years broadened the law in order to prosecute Thais who have allegedly insulted the monarchy on the Internet, in blogs, and using social media; one U.S. citizen recently was arrested in Thailand for just such a "crime."
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Lèse-Majesté, indeed, has become a political weapon -- perhaps the most potent political weapon in Thailand -- even though the king himself has said that he is not above criticism and seems to dislike the law. Royalists in the military, the bureaucracy, and the Democrat Party have used it to crush dissent. Striking back, the Puea Thai opposition and its allies have also in recent years used Lèse-Majesté against their political opponents. Whatever the original purpose for the law -- which actually largely fell out of use in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, a time when the monarchy was much weaker, that original purpose has vanished today. The rising use of Lèse-Majesté has grown concurrentlywith increases in censorship of all types, as well as self-censorship in the print and online media in Thailand.
Many Thais hoped that the July election of Yingluck Shinawatra and the Puea Thai party would mean a diminishing use of the Lèse-Majesté law, since Puea Thai's members and followers have themselves had the law used against them many times. Allies of Yingluck say that she is personally sympathetic to trying to reduce use of the law and reform it in the long run. After her election, for example, bloggers posted an interview she had given in which she said that she did not want the law to be misused.