BANGKOK – The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand has reported that the Thai Authorities are investigating the US Ambassador Glyn Davies for Royal Defamation (Lese Majeste) over comments he made criticizing lengthy jail sentences from the kingdom’s lese majeste law, a foreign media group and police said.
The Bangkok Post quoted a police spokesman as confirming that the authorities could not proceed with any legal action against the ambassador. Ambassador Davies has diplomatic immunity from arrest, however Thailand can rescind his diplomatic credentials.
Under Thai law anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent can face up to 15 years in jail on each count under section 112 of the criminal code.
Prosecutions have surged since the royalist army seized power last year, with record breaking sentences handed down in recent months to transgressors.
The Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand (FCCT), which represents international media inside the military-run kingdom, said it had been asked to cooperate in the probe after US ambassador Glyn T Davies delivered a speech there last month.
The body has been asked to assist police “in an official investigation into whether comments made by US Ambassador Glyn Davies at the club on 25 November violated article 112 of the criminal code, the lese majeste law,” the club said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand is cooperating with the police,” it added.
A senior Thai police source confirmed to AFP that they had received a complaint and were investigating the ambassador’s comments.
Mr Davies’ speech on 25 November at the club’s premises in Bangkok touched on a broad range of topics. Saying the US was concerned about the “lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences handed down by military courts” in lese majeste cases, and stated the US view that no-one should be jailed for peacefully expressing their views.
In Thailand any member of the public can make an allegation of royal defamation and police are duty bound to investigate – a situation critics of the law say often results in an effective witch-hunt.
Media must heavily self censor when reporting on such cases for fear of falling foul of the law.
Ambassador Davies comments centered on criticism of the royal defamation law, not the royal family. However in recent years the law has been increasingly broadly interpreted.
Another ambassador in hot water with the Thai authorities is British envoy Mark Kent, over a tweet he posted three days ago.
In it, he contrasted the military government’s tolerance of protests outside the US embassy against Glyn Davies by ultra-royalists with the detention of dozens of activists heading to protest at a military-built park glorifying Thailand’s monarchy, which has been tainted by a corruption scandal.
“It is disappointing that the ambassador took a position that has supported a group that has often broken the law and disrespected judicial processes,” government spokesman Maj Gen Werachon Sukondhapatipak said.
The foreign ministry says it was studying the British ambassador’s comments to determine whether he should be summoned to receive a formal complaint.