What is Thailand's '112' royal defamation law?

A pro-democracy protester makes announcements during an anti-government rally at Thammasat University in Bangkok, on Sept 19, 2020.
A pro-democracy protester makes announcements during an anti-government rally at Thammasat University in Bangkok, on Sept 19, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK • Thailand's monarchy is protected by one of the world's toughest royal defamation laws, making any criticism of the powerful King Maha Vajiralongkorn all but impossible inside the country.

Some student leaders have called for the abolition of the law as a pro-democracy movement gathers steam, with thousands protesting this weekend to demand reforms to the monarchy.

WHAT IS THE '112' LAW?

Under Section 112 of Thailand's penal code, anyone convicted of defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir or regent faces between three and 15 years in prison on each count.

But the law is routinely interpreted to include any criticism of any aspect of the monarchy - including content posted or shared on social media.

The harshest punishment so far? A man was sentenced to 35 years in jail in 2017 for a series of Facebook posts and comments about the royal family.

HOW IS IT ENFORCED?

Anyone can make an accusation under the law, and the authorities are bound to investigate. There is no transparent disclosure of the official number of lese majeste complaints, arrests, charges or sentences - only an inconsistent trickle of information from the authorities.

But the use of Section 112 has risen dramatically since a 2014 coup by the arch-royalist military.

According to legal aid groups, just six people were behind bars on lese majeste convictions before 2014. That number skyrocketed in the following five years, with 169 convictions.

Those charged are almost always convicted. But if they plead guilty, sentences are often halved.

 
 
 

WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CASES UNDER THE MILITARY?

Legal observers and rights campaigners say Section 112 and other laws like the Computer Crimes Act and sedition laws have been used to target dissent in Thailand.

The ultra-royalist military has long used its self-appointed role as the defender of the monarchy to justify coups and political interventions.

But critics say it has used the cover of protecting the monarchy to stifle political opponents and tighten its hold on power.

United Nations special rapporteur David Kaye urged the regime in 2017 to stop Section 112 prosecutions, saying such laws "have no place in a democratic country".

The use of Section 112 has slowed recently. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha - leader of the 2014 coup - said in June that the King had requested that the government refrain from using it.

But it is not just the military - self-appointed ultra-royalist civilian groups also monitor the Web and report alleged 112 violations.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 20, 2020, with the headline 'Thailand's '112' royal defamation law'. Print Edition | Subscribe