Thai royalists demonstrate against US remarks on lese majeste

A crowd of 200 royalists staged a protest at the United States Embassy in Bangkok on 16 December, accusing it of interfering in domestic affairs.

Protesters criticised Ambassador Kristie Kennie for her comments on recent lese majeste prosecutions, including that of of Joe Gordon, a Thailand-born US citizen.

“We call on the US embassy and Ambassador Kristie Kenney to apologise to all Thai people for their improper action towards our beloved king,” protest leader Chaiwat Surawichai reportedly said to AFP.

Both US and UN officials had expressed concern about the sentencing of Joe Gordon, also known as Lerpong Wichaikhammat, on 8 December and Amphon Tangnoppakul on 23 November. Gordon, 55, faces two-and-a-half years in prison for translating parts of a banned biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and posting them online, while Amphon, 61, was sentenced to 20 years for sending four text messages insulting the monarchy.

Members of royalist group Siam Sammakkhi (United Siam) submitted letters to the United Nations headquarters and the Ambassador urging them not to comment on the lese majeste law. Some of them carried placards which read “Kristie Kenney Shut Up”, “We will protect Article 112 with our lives” and shouted for the Ambassador to “get out”.

At about 6:00pm local time, Kenney posted on her Twitter account that the “protest was peaceful, protestors included respectful conversation with Embassy staff to exchange views. Freedom of expression”. Earlier the US Embassy posted a statement on its website stating “the United States government has the utmost respect for the Thai monarchy, the royal family and Thai culture”, and they “respect Thai laws and do not take sides in Thailand’s internal affairs. We support freedom of expression around the world and consider it a fundamental human right.”

According a report from The Nation, angry commentators had this week lashed out at the Embassy on its Facebook page with postings containing abusive language and images. After its administrator posted a request urging for civility to no avail on 15 December, the messages have been apparently deleted. There was barrage of messages following Kenney’s remarks during a chat with Twitter users last week, including one that read she was “troubled by prosecutions inconsistent with international standard of freedom of expression”.

On 9 December, the UN Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights called for Thailand to amend its lese majeste law. During the Universal Periodic Review in October, countries with monarchs, such as the UK and Norway, urged Thailand to safeguard freedom of expression. Countries without that did not comment during the session included the US.