In recent weeks, Nitirat and its supporters have been harassed, and their human rights violated. Indeed, the hyper-royalists have grown increasingly malicious over Nitirat’s campaign, with Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha branding Nitirat supporters “abnormal people,” and urging them to leave the country because of their supposed disrespect toward the monarchy.
At the same time, members of the opposition Democrat Party have launched their own war of words against Nitirat. “These law professors are the scum of the earth,” Chavanond Indarakomartsut, deputy spokesman of the Democrat Party, reportedly told reporters. The Yellow Shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy has gone even further, calling for the military to launch a coup to defend the monarchy. A death threat has been sent to the group, calling for members of Nitirat to be beheaded and their heads put on stakes outside Thammasat University, or else be burned alive in front of their houses.
This witch hunt is eerily reminiscent of the violent incidents that took place in 1973 and 1976 when Thammasat students fighting against despotic regimes were accused of plotting to topple the monarchy and were subsequently massacred. Thirty-six years on, the monarchy is once again central in a Thai crisis. The division over the lèse-majesté law is deepening dangerously, with no sign the opposing camps are willing to work to find a peaceful solution.
Joining Nitirat in its campaign is a group of 224 noted international scholars, writers, and activists who sent an open letter to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra expressing grave concern over the use of lèse-majesté laws and the erosion of the basic rights of those who face charges under it. The letter explicitly supports the call to reform the law in line with the amendment proposal by the Nitirat. Among the signatories are Noam Chomsky, Amitav Ghosh, Tariq Ali, Chris Hedges, Robert Meeropol and Ariel Dorfman.
Differences over the lèse-majesté law have the potential to trigger political violence between the two groups. Sadly, while the focus is on the protection of the monarchy, the protection of the people’s basic rights are plainly being ignored.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.