Category Archives: Thailand

Less lesse is more

I’ve already posted about a few of the ongoing lesse majeste cases in Thailand. What makes Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s case worth mentioning is that there’s some hope she might win. The judge said several times that this case was “nothing” or “no big deal,” strongly implying that he saw no grounds for the prosecution. I’m not that familiar with how judges interact with lawyers and defendants in the courtroom, but those seem like pretty informal comments. New Mandala posted more earlier today.

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Filed under lesse majeste, Thailand

US courts, Thai law

I’ve mentioned Thailand’s lesse majesty prosecutions. On it’s face, it’s not clear how Thai legal activists can respond to what many see as out-of-control prosecutions against the Thai elite’s enemies. That’s why I found it interesting to see a New Mandala blog post about a legal response to lesse majeste – but in a U.S. court! The World Organization for Human Rights has brought a suit against web hosting firm Netfirms, Inc., for releasing the identity of an anonymous poster on a Thai prodemocracy website. According to the complaint, the poster, Anthony Chai, was:

subsequently detained at the Bangkok airport, taken to the Department of Special Investigations, and interrogated about his postings on the website. After finally being released from police custody in Bangkok and returning home to California, Mr. Chai was then interrogated by Thai officials over the course of two days on U.S. soil at a hotel in Hollywood, California. Mr. Chai was later informed by Thai officials that if he returns to Thailand, he will be arrested and charged with violating lese majesté laws.

Unfortunately, I’m not caught up with U.S. jurisprudence on the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) and other human rights law, so I won’t hazard a guess as to the outcome. Still, I’ll make a few observations. First, unlike in many ATCA cases, the company did clearly take an action that had an impact on the plaintiff. There will probably be no debate over whether the company knew or should have known that Thailand was prosecuting lesse majeste.

That being said, Mr. Chai, a California native, did return to Thailand after making the post and has been released from prison. In fact, the Thai government has warned him it would arrest him on future trips, so Mr. Chai would have to actively return to Thailand in order to suffer further harm. A judge might view this as too speculative to rule on for concrete damages.

Over the next few weeks and months I’ll try to follow the case and also get a better sense of U.S. law in this area. I know other U.S. internet firms have been sued on similar legal grounds (such as Yahoo releasing data to the Chinese government about political dissidents). In the meantime, for those interested in learning more, you can download the full complaint here.

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Filed under lesse majeste, Thailand, United States, USA

Hiding Lesse Majeste

The Thai Constitutional Court recently affirmed a decision to hold a lesse majeste prosecution in camera. On its face, this seems to violate Articles 29 and 40 of the 2007 Constitution, which guarantee a right to a public trial. The Court justified the restriction as only used to the extent necessary. However, it’s not quite clear what is necessary about it? Is the court worried about public repetition of libel? Are in camera trials the next phase in Thai judicial politics? The New Mandala blog provides an excellent legal analysis here.

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There they go again…

As readers might have heard, Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and the Puea Thai party won an overwhelming victory in Thailand’s July 3 elections. While military leaders ruled out a coup, the defeated Democrat Party is asking the Election Commission to file charges against Puea Thai. In particular, the Democrats want the Constitutional Court to dissolve Puea Thai because of Thaksin’s involvement in the campaign and allegations of “corruption.” According to the news I’ve seen thus far, this “corruption” largely amounts to Puea Thai candidates handing free noodles during campaign events. So far, the EC hasn’t actually filed a case against Puea Thai yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Thus far, history looks set to repeat itself. Of course, back in 2008, the Constitutional Court was instrumental in the PPP’s downfall. Last year, the Court refused to dissolve the Democrat Party on similar charges. There’s no reason to think the justices have changed their basic political outlook since the 2008 cases; I haven’t heard of any major changes in court personnel, nor have Puea Thai allies been in a position to appoint new justices. However, if the Court dissolves Puea Thai now, it risks cementing a reputation for partisanship. I’ll definitely follow this case to  see how it develops and if it actually goes to trial.

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Filed under Thailand, Thaksin

Thai tort

The New Mandala blog recently posted a book review of a very interesting new book, Tort, Custom, and Karma by David Engel and Jaruwan Engel. I haven’t read the book yet, but the basic argument seems to be that in rural Thailand the state legal system plays a minimal role in resolving personal injury disputes. They suspect that globalization and the process of atomization have distanced the state from the individual. 

I’ll write more once I read the book (I have it on my bookshelf). For now, my parting question would be whether the book simply explains northern Thailand or develops a theory applicable to many developing country contexts. Indeed, during my recent trip to Burma, many Burmese lawyers claimed that Burma was “unique” because people avoided the legal system. At the very least, Tort, Custom, and Karma shows that the disconnect between citizens and the law exists in a variety of contexts.

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