Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a refugee from Thailand’s lèse majesté laws. He spoke to Index on Censorship about the government and military’s campaign against dissent
Academic and journalist Giles Ji Ungpakorn fled Thailand last Friday, shortly before he was due to face charges of lèse majesté. Ungpakorn was one of the latest in a series of writers who found themselves prosecuted under the law, including Australian Harry Nicolaides, who is currently serving a three-year jail sentence after being found guilty of insulting the king.
Ungpakorn says he never expected to face lese majeste charges.
‘I wrote my book [A Coup for the Rich], as an academic text, raising questions about the role of the king in the 2006 coup. Everything in the book was common knowledge and fact, reported at the time’ he told Index on Censorship.
‘But when you put everything together, you get to see the big picture. I examined whether the monarchy had done its duty, as it should in a constitutional monarchy, or whether it had been manipulated in to positions by the military.’
The professor, who holds Thai and British citizenship, is scathing of his employer Chulalongkorn University’s role.
‘The university acted disgracefully in terms of academic freedom,’ he says. First, they refused to sell my book in the university bookshop, and then, when the authorities were seeking to prosecute me, they handed it over without question.’
Ungpakorn sees the charges against him as very much a part of a wider crackdown on dissent, led by the military.
‘The military is using the courts as instruments,’he says. ‘They, along with the People’s Alliance for Democracy, are attempting to create a climate of fear. They have set up a website for people to report suspected lèse majesté. They’re also tracking people down via their IP numbers, and then sending soldiers round to intimidate them.’
The current crackdown is a direct result of last year’s quasi-coup by the People’s Alliance for Democracy and its military backers, says Ungpakorn:
‘The military has no legitimacy except through the monarchy. If the king were to die, and be succeeded by the unpopular crown prince, they would be in crisis.’
Ungpakorn is angry at the obsession with pursuing lèse majesté convictions: ‘Huge amounts of government money is being spent on all this, when Thailand is suffering the same economic crisis as the rest of the world. They are wasting money while the Thai people are losing their jobs and their pensions.’