As the waters of Thailand’s monsoon-swollen rivers are finally receding and this year’s unusually devastating floods are declared over across the country, the political landscape is still reeling from the disaster. The months-long crisis and the official response raised a number of questions about the weak points in Thai government institutions. Many reports have assigned blame to individuals or focused on structural factors like corruption and overdevelopment, but the most important issue highlighted by the floods may be the unresolved status of the armed forces. The ambiguity of the military’s constitutional role has enabled its long-standing entanglement in all aspects of political life, including at least 20 coups d’état in the last century.
The sentencing on December 8 of Thai-born American citizen, Lerpong Wichaikhammat , “Joe Gordon”, to two and a half years in prison for defaming the monarchy is a clear violation of freedom of expression and a worrisome indicator of the Thai government is neglecting its human rights agenda.
Computer programmer Surapak Puchaieseng was arrested, detained and had his computer confiscated after “insulting” the Thai royal family on Facebook. Puchaieseng‘s arrest marks the first lèse majesté case since prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected. He also was accused of violating the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. Yingluck is the sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and assumed office in August 2011.
On May 26, Thai authorities arrested Lerpong Wichaikhammat in his home, after accusing him of criticizing the country’s monarchy. He was denied bail, charged with “inciting public unrest” and violating Thailand’s “Computer Crimes Act.”
Lauren Galacia manages the Asia program. Prior to joining Freedom House, she oversaw the development and implementation of citizen engagement programs throughout Asia and Eurasia, with a focus on Thailand and Burma.