The number 112 is enough to strike terror in the heart of any resident or visitor to Thailand. A country which is otherwise a tourist paradise is unflinchingly strict about adherence to this article in its constitution.
Recently, the plight of a man who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for posting a photo that seemed to be mocking the king’s dog, has brought this issue to the forefront again. It’s best that all potential visitors to Thailand be aware of this possible threat to their freedom.
First introduced to Thailand’s criminal code in 1908, and amended to its present form as Article 112 of the constitution, the Lese Majeste Law prohibits any slur against the country’s monarch and the royal family.
On the chance that you’re taking this lightly, consider this:
1. You cannot sing songs, write novels or stage plays that may portray the royal family in a negative light, even if you name your characters differently. In 2008, Australian writer Harry Nicolaides was arrested at Bangkok airport just as he was about to board a flight home. He had written a novel about a fictional prince who was thought to be modeled on King Bhumibol’s son. He was only released after an international hue and cry was raised in his favour.
2. You can’t ‘Like’ anything critical of the monarchy on Facebook.
3. Sending text messages that may be construed as being disrespectful to the king and his family is a criminal offence.
4. You can’t express any negative comments about the royals in public. A taxi-driver was sent to jail for 2 years after a passenger recorded his comments and complained against him.
5. Past monarchs are off-limits too. You cannot question the official version of Thai history. A social critic Sulak Sivarasaka was charged for questioning whether an elephant battle led by 16th century Thai King Naresuan actually took place.
The Lese Majeste article, like our indigenous blasphemy law, is often used by native Thais to settle personal scores as no argument can be brooked against it.
When heading for the pleasures of Bangkok or the picturesque resorts in Koh Samui or Phuket, it’s best to be aware of this law, flouting which could land you in big trouble. If you have any views about the monarchy or political system of the country, keep them to yourself. And remember, most Thais understand English, even if they pretend not to.