Thailand has been making news recently about the increasing use of laws to silence and temper critics. Freedom House, a U.S. based think tank, has downgraded Thailand from partially free to not free in terms of the press.
While the finding and whether the current legal restrictions is necessary to maintain civil order has been debated, it is increasingly important that foreign nationals should steer clear of statements or actions which will place them in violation of the law. They need to understand that what is said in private or public can place a person in violation of the law.
Martial Law Act of 1914
Thailand is currently ruled under a military regime which is governed by the Martial Law Act of 1914. The Martial Law Act states that “to preserve good order free from external or internal danger”, a royal proclamation may be issued to allow the military to “have superior power over the civil authority in regards to military operation, suppression, or keeping public order.”
Under martial law, the military court can “conduct the trial and to adjudicate criminal cases” within the area of its control. Within the purview of maintaining public order, the military government has issued orders prohibiting news and information in all media forms which may incite, cause fear, or misunderstanding of the military.
2014 Interim Constitution
Section 44 of the 2014 Interim Constitution is reminiscent of the Martial Law Act of 1914. Under section 44, “the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order shall have the power to make any order” that is required “for the prevention or suppression of any act which undermines public peace and order or national security…” Section 47 of the 2014 Interim Constitution states that any orders by the Head of the NCPO is “legal, constitutional, and conclusive” regardless of the previous actions of the legislative, executive, or judicial branch.
There are two types of defamation in Thailand, civil defamation and criminal defamation. Under the Thai Civil and Commercial Code (Section 423), defamation is when a person makes false statements and circulates it as fact. The false statements must injure the reputation, credit, earnings, or prosperity of another person. If found liable, the defamer shall compensate the defamed for any damage arising from the false statements. Even if the defamer does not know that his statements are false, as long as he knows that it should be false, the defamer is liable for defamation.
Section 326 of the Thai Criminal Code, criminal defamation is defined as whoever imputes anything about another person to a third person in a manner likely to impair the person’s reputation or place the person in contempt or hatred by others. If the defamation is committed by publication or other forms of media, the offender may be imprisoned for up to two years. The truth is not a defense for private matters that is not a benefit to the public (Section 330).
Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code states that “whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” Under Section 8 of the 2007 constitution, the “King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action.” The definition of what actions constitutes a violation of the law has not been clearly defined and left to the jurisdiction of the courts. Anyone can submit a complaint to the police for violation of the Section 112 and the police are bound to investigate the complaint.
These laws are currently in effect with additional security related laws that allow government officials to monitor and access personal computers. Foreign nationals who are currently living in Thailand need to be aware of these laws. It is advisable for them to stay neutral on Thai politics and not say anything in negative against the Royal family during their stay in Thailand. Many foreign nationals choose to live in Thailand because of its weather, people, and lifestyle. They can still enjoy what Thailand has to offer without placing themselves with potential conflict with the law and the current government.
By Mr. Robert R. Virasin
Our licensed Thai lawyers at Siam Legal International in Bangkok have valuable knowledge in dealing with government agencies in Thailand, and this experience is of great importance when dealing with Thai legal cases and investigative service.