What To Do With Anti-Monarchy Graffiti?

Originally published at Siam Voices on October 7, 2010. Thailand's draconian lèse majesté laws have been subject of many debates and not since the most recent arrest of Prachatai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn (previously reported here and here) were the flaws of this laws exposed clearly.

Since her arrest was prompted by someone filing a complaint at the local police for comments on the website (and the alleged failure to remove them in time), I came across this interesting story on Political Prisoners in Thailand (PPT)...

MeechaiThailand.com, owned by Meechai Ruchupan, former President of the Senate, veteran government legal advisor, and former President of the Council of the State, answers a law-related question on lèse majesté from Kraiwan Kasemsin.

The question is “I used a toilet in this gas station and found this writing that insults the Monarchy. I would like to know if the owner could be charged for letting that happen. How can I file a complaint against the owner or request them to remove the writing? What if the owner does nothing and lets the writing remain? How can the owner be charged?”

Meechai answers: “If the owner acknowledged the complaint and did not remove the writing then they might be guilty. Whoever finds this kind of thing should tell the owner to remove it, or report it to the police.”

Kraiwan Kasemsin is chairman of the Taxi Club in Mor Chit and Don Muang. He was a friend of Chupong Teetuan of Norporchor USA. Kraiwan recently moved to host a pro-monarchy radio programme under Newin Chidchob’s direction.

"Anti-monarchy graffiti", by Political Prisoners in Thailand, September 30, 2010

The original story appeared in Matichon (in Thai).

So, comparing this to the Prachatai case we see some similarities, even though the platform is very, uh, analogue. The asker wants to know if the owner of the platform (in this case admittedly in an abstract way it is the owner of the petrol station) can be sued if he does not remove the anti-monarchy statements fast enough, whether he knows about it or not. The answer is a bit unclear, does it say you could report it to the police right away without acknowledging the owner?

The reasoning is the same as seen in the Prachatai case. No matter who wrote the message, the owner of the platform apparently can be charged. Here's is the reasoning of the Prachatai case for comparism:

After considering that comments related to the interview of Chotisak Onsoong, who refused to stand for the royal anthem in a theater, [...] deemed lese majeste, Sunimit Jirasuk, a Khon Kaen businessman, went to the police station and filed charges against Chiranuch [...] for publicizing and persuading others to approve, praise and imitate Chotisak’s ‘disloyal’ act, Manager Online reports. (...)

“Most of the comments approve Chotisak’s act, indicating that they want to overthrow the monarchy. It is believable that letting people freely express their opinions regarding the issue on the Internet indicates that [the webmasters] want to be the center of the people who want to undermine the throne. Therefore, both webmasters should be charged,” Manager online reported Sunimit’s remark. (...)

"Analysis On Chiranuch Latest Charges And Arrest", Thai Netizen Network, October 2, 2010

Nevertheless that doesn't hide that fact that anti-royal resentments do exist in Thailand and are also on display. During the recent protests by the red shirts on September 19 it was reported that there were anti-monarchy writings as well.

The one thing conspicuously missing from media coverage was the angry messages emblazoned on the corrugated iron wall outside CentralWorld, which is being rebuilt after the red shirts allegedly burned it down in the aftermath of the crackdown.

Until late Sunday afternoon, the walls were plastered with colourful feel-good propaganda calling for national unity, which were later replaced by angry messages aimed squarely at the established old elite saying things that cannot be reproduced here or anywhere else without the risk of violating the lese majeste law.

At about 7pm that Sunday evening, a number of red shirts stood in front of the wall airing their anger and political grievances. The very next day, these messages were removed and life went on as if they were never there to begin with.

"It may be time to take off the blindfold", The Nation, September 23, 2010

Could the owner of the wall, on which the writings were, be charged as well if he didn't remove them in time? If the two previous and a number of other non-LM cases have taught us anything, then it is also allowed to shoot the messenger.