Arrest of Thai academic raises free speech fears

Linked with Sulak Sivaraksa – Thailand, and with Global problem-solving: A Buddhist perspective.

Published on Reuters India, by Nopporn Wong-Anan, Nov. 7, 2008. (Additional reporting by Ed Cropley).

BANGKOK (Reuters) – The arrest of a renowned academic on charges of insulting Thailand’s king in a lecture a year ago is a blow to freedom of speech and makes debate of the country’s political problems more difficult, analysts said on Friday.

Sulak Sivaraksa, 75, was taken from his Bangkok home late on Thursday and driven 450 km (280 miles) to a police station in northeast Khon Kaen province to be charged with lese majeste for a university speech he gave there in December, his lawyer said.

His comments were broadly critical of government spending on the lavish 2006 celebrations for King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Golden Jubilee. After an hour of questioning, he was freed on bail and allowed to return to Bangkok, his lawyer told Reuters.

The Welsh-educated scholar of Buddhism is no stranger to the lese majeste law, which could land him in jail for 15 years, although on the two previous occasions he has been charged, in the 1980s and 1990s, he was acquitted …

…  Police have set up a task force to monitor web sites that might defame royalty, and the Telecommunications Ministry has told Internet service providers to block offending web pages or face criminal action.

David Streckfuss, a lecturer from the University of Wisconsin at Madison who has studied the law, said he expected the number of lese majeste cases to rise as both the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps try to appear more royalist than their rivals.

The long-term impact on the palace is only likely to be negative, Streckfuss said, as it would make the monarchy “more of a focal point” and “put it under greater scrutiny by the people.”

“Maybe the genie is out of the bottle, and it is impossible to put the genie back,” he said … (full text).

Link: Arrest of Thai academic raises free speech fears – Renowned scholar and social activist Sulak Sivaraksa (Thailand, RLA 1995) has been arrested on charges of lèse majesté … The Right Livelihood Award Foundation has written to the King’s private secretary, asking him to petition His Majesty to protect Sulak Sivaraksa.

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