101 East

For Crown or Country: Thailand’s Lese Majeste Law

Is the lese majeste law, designed to prevent insults to the Thai royal family, being abused and should it be abolished?

In November last year, a 61-year-old Thai man, Ampon Tangnoppakul, was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for sending four text messages deemed to have been offensive to Thailand’s royal family.

On May 8, Ampon died of liver cancer in prison, still claiming he was innocent of all charges.

The case has reignited debate over Thailand’s strict lese majeste law, which is enshrined in the nation’s criminal code. The law is meant to prevent insults and threats to the monarchy.

But many are concerned that the increasing use of it curbs freedom of speech and that it is not always used to protect the royal family’s interests. Those who have felt the brunt of the law include journalists, authors and activists.

Pro-democracy groups say the vagueness of the law also opens it to abuse and there are growing calls to have it revised or abolished.

101 East explores Thailand’s lese majeste law and asks just who it really protects.