Thailand has some of the world's toughest lese majeste rules in the world, and it's not a good idea to insult the royal family in any way as you travel around the country, even if you're a Westerner on vacation.
One of the curious but traditional forms of honoring king and country is to stand during the national anthem, which is played prior to the showing of every movie in the Kingdom. But is it required by law? Does it really indicate disrespect for the king?
An important test case will be coming up soon, and the defendants recently spoke with Prachatai about their rather serious case, and how they intend to fight the charges.
Chotisak: On September 20, last year, we went shopping and saw a movie [in Central World shopping complex]. We didn’t stand up for the Royal Anthem [which precedes every movie in Thai cinemas], as I had usually not stood up. A man whose seat was two seats away from us turned to us, saying ‘Stand up’ [in English], as he probably understood us to be foreigners, but we sat still. He waited until the anthem finished, and then he went to call the cinema staff to deal with us, while the movie was starting. However, the staff didn’t do anything, but, instead, tried to calm him down. We later knew his name was Navamintr.
Is this really a tradition? I remember reading an article, probably published on a website, that says previously the Royal Anthem used to be played after the movies finished, and no one bothered to stand, but just rushed out to go home. That was back in the reign of King Rama V, when the anthem was first introduced in theatres. The idea the anthem should be played before movies is even newer. So at what point are things considered tradition?
Talking about traditions vs. rights, one finds that there are many traditions which people do not follow, and no one seems to bother. If violators of tradition are to be punished, many more jails need to be built.
Traditions are man-made, not unlike laws. If they’re not appropriate, not right, anachronistic, or against people’s well being, they can be revoked.
For the legal case, it has to follow the rule of law. I’ve sought for help from the Lawyers’ Council, and they provided lawyers for me. And I’ve also consulted with my lawyer friends. My friend has received assistance from Muslim lawyers, as her line is different from mine.
And we insist that it’s our right not to stand. Not standing is not a crime, and it is not an act of insult. We’re going to launch a public campaign about this.
This law should be revoked, really, because so many people have been affected by it. Lèse majesté allegations have been very politicized. Sondhi Limthongkul has been accused of this by the pro-Thaksin camp, and Thaksin et al have also been accused of this. This offence carries a severe penalty, as much as 15 years in jail, but it has been exploited, and its interpretation has become broader and more arbitrary to the point that one can easily find faults with one’s enemies, and accuse them of lèse majesté, so one doesn’t have to take any responsibility.
But if this law is to be kept, I think the royal family or the Royal Household should be the plaintiff, not anybody suing anybody freely like this.