Freedom under threat in Thailand
We wish to express our deep concern at the decision of the Thai special branch to prosecute associate professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn of the political science faculty at Chulalongkorn University, with lèse majesté - that is, with insulting King Bhumibol. Mr Ungpakorn is a well-known commentator on Thai politics widely quoted in the international media (Ready, steady ... quit, 10 September 2007). The charge arises from his book A Coup for the Rich, published last year. In that book he criticised the coup of 19 September 2006, in which the military seized political power in Thailand.
Mr Ungpakorn argued that the army, along with the rest of the Thai establishment, used the monarchy to legitimise its political interventions. This is the kind of analysis that political scientists make as a matter of course, but various bookshops withdrew the book from circulation, forcing Mr Ungpakorn to make it available on the internet. Now his academic freedom and basic citizenship rights have come under more serious attack with this prosecution. Lèse majesté has fallen into disuse in most of the world as a relic of the pre-democratic past. Thailand is an exception.
Lèse majesté carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, and MPs from the government party headed by Abhisit Vejjajiva, which came to office thanks to the connivance of the army, want to increase this to 25 years. So the prosecution of Mr Ungpakorn represents the most fundamental attack on freedom of speech. We demand that the charges against him are unconditionally withdrawn.
Prof Luc Boltanski
École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris
Prof Dennis Brutus University of KwaZulu-Natal
Prof Alex Callinicos King's College London
And 123 others