THE NATIONAL Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has banned the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) from holding a debate on lese majeste laws, in another blow for free speech, organisers said yesterday.
FCCT planned to host a panel discussion on the royal-defamation law tomorrow evening (Wed).
“The FCCT has now been told that if the event goes ahead, the military will come and seal off access to the Maneeya Centre, where the club is located,” the FCCT said.
The statement said police had conveyed the message on behalf of the NCPO. Calls to a government spokesman went unanswered yesterday.
The move comes less than two weeks after the government forbade a group of lawyers from holding a discussion at the FCCT exploring rights abuses under the military rulers. “We believe the law is a legitimate subject for discussion, not only for Thais, but also for foreigners who live or invest in Thailand,” the FCCT said. “Our discussion would, we believe, have been constructive.”
Lese majeste prosecutions have surged since former Army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha seized power in May last year.
According to iLaw, a local rights group that monitors such cases, royal-defamation proceedings were under way for just two people before the coup. Now that number is at least 46. Under Section 112 of the criminal code, anyone convicted of insulting the King, Queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count – one of the world’s strictest such laws.
Recent cases include a 58-year-old man sentenced to 25 years jail for the content of five Facebook posts, a bookseller jailed for an alleged offence back in 2006, and a mentally ill 65-year-old woman jailed last month for allegedly insulting a portrait of His Majesty.
Critics say the law is used as a weapon against political enemies of the royalist elite and their military allies.