By Pravit Rojanaphruk
While things appear calm on the surface, one revealing fact about the ongoing debate about the role of the monarchy surfaced last week when Prachatai.com online newspaper reported that Army Ranger Unit 45's Special Task Force had been busy engaging in cyb
It said the force boasted of being the most prolific Army unit in posting online messages praising the monarchy and retaliating against those deemed as defaming the institution.
The unit, based in Narathiwat province, stated on its website that it has posted 1.69 million messages in the four-month period between June and September last year. That’s an average of 13,927 postings per day. Many of the postings were made under different aliases to appear as if they were part of a coordinated and systemic intervention – and it was not the only unit in the Army doing this.
Facts suggest that beneath the calm surface of consensus and acceptance of the status quo – where the draconian lese majeste law is in place – the supposed
reality presented in virtual reality couldn’t be more different.
In another stark reminder, last week on Monday, two foreign ‘interventions’ on the issue of lese majeste law took place. In Geneva, Germany’s representative to the United Nations expressed concerns about the repeated denial of bail to a number of lese majeste detainees and people accused of defaming the monarchy. The issue was raised on June 3 during an interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. This led to a denial of any irregularity from his Thai counterpart.
“Germany… notes the systematic denial of bail for a number of people charged under Article 112 in Thailand and stresses that this fundamental right is guaranteed by the Constitution of Thailand. We emphasise that while understanding that the right to bail may have some limitations in certain circumstances, the systematic denial of bail for people charged under lese majeste law does not seem reasonable and justifiable. We urge Thailand to address the situation,” said the German representative during session 23 of the Human Rights Council dialogue.
Thani Thongpakdi, Thai ambassador and permanent representative to the UN in Geneva quickly replied by saying “those charged [under lese majeste law] are given their rights in accordance with the due process of law.”
On that same day last week, here in Bangkok, the president of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA) Jacob Matthew spent minutes during his speech at the opening of the World Newspaper Congress – which attracted some 1,500 people from 66 countries – reminding them that the Thai lese majeste law is being misused and creating a climate of fear.
Yet most Thai-language papers simply ignored reporting the point raised by Matthew.
The truth is, sometimes we can gauge reality by what we cannot or will not say in Thailand while foreigners are crying out about it. Sometimes what is happening on Facebook, Twitter and the Internet web boards tells us more about anxiety and
disagreement in Thai society regarding the role of the monarchy institution and the lese majeste law than most mainstream mass media would like us to believe.
There’s something wrong with a society where foreigners are at greater liberty to talk about the problems of that society than locals, where debates and arguments on
virtual reality tells us more about the truth of that society.
In the case of the controversial lese majeste law and the debate on the role of the monarchy, the sad reality is that it is easier and safer for foreigners to talk
critically. If you are a Thai citizen, then your option is mostly left to gossiping or posting messages critical of the monarchy and the law, using an alias and arguing with others who may be cyber warriors from Rangers’ Unit 45 who could be using equally fake identities.