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Prime Minister rejects calls for reform of lèse-majesté law but says it should not be abused

(SEAPA/IFEX) - On 5 March 2009, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva turned down an international call for the reform of lèse-majesté law but hinted some amendment to the enforcement of the law could be considered to allow for expression of academic opinions.

Speaking at the 54th anniversary of the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), Abhisit said there was a need to maintain this law in order to protect the reputation of the kingdom's revered monarchy.

The prime minister said he could not accept an argument that the lèse-majesté law undermined freedom of expression. "Why does no one criticise countries which have laws dealing with contempt of court and call for the repeal of that law?" he asked.

However, he admitted that politicians in the past have abused provisions of the lèse-majesté law. He said this should be addressed to ensure that the genuine spirit of this law is implemented. Abhisit added that he had told the National Police Commission to handle lèse-majesté charges with care.

Over 50 international scholars and dignitaries have signed a letter to the Thai Prime Minister recently calling for reform of the lèse-majesté law. The letter came after a spate of lèse-majesté cases in Thailand and moves by the Thai government to restrict online discussions of the royal family.

The letter argues that "frequent abuse of the lèse-majesté law against political opponents undermines democratic processes" and generates "heightened criticism of the monarchy and Thailand itself, both inside and outside the country."

Lèse-majesté is a criminal offense in Thailand, carrying prison terms of 3-15 years.

Laws regarding defamation of the monarchy have been provided for in every Constitution the Kingdom has ever had. The 2007 Charter reads: "The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action."

Moreover, the Thai Criminal Code further states in Article 112: "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen or the Heir-apparent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years."

Updates alerts on Prime Minister Vejjajiva's stance on lèse-majesté:

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