from Asia Unbound

The Thai Government’s Priorities

February 05, 2013

Somyot Prueksakasemsuk (C), editor of "Voice of the Oppressed", a magazine devoted to self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, gestures as he arrives at the criminal court in Bangkok January 23, 2013.
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Over the past week, since the sentencing of a prominent Thai editor Somyot Prueksakakasemsuk and activist to ten years (eleven if you count the suspended sentence he must serve again) in jail for publishing articles that supposedly violated Thailand’s broad and outdated lèse majesté law, both Thai and foreign commentators have hotly debated whether, and how, to alter or abolish the law. On New Mandala, there is a lively discussion of whether the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand—which itself has been hit with lèse majesté charges—is too weak in defending the rights of free speech in Thailand. Many foreign nations, including the United States, have expressed their concern at the verdict, which comes on top of a seemingly endless parade of lèse majesté cases. Meanwhile, despite the highly repressive climate toward speech in Thailand today, at a soccer game last weekend between Thailand’s two most famous universities, students in the crowd flew banners that read “FREE SOMYOT” and holding other protests.

And the Thai government? It is more focused on other matters. Like what? Like expressing outrage at a skit on Saturday Night Live that plays on Thailand’s reputation for sex tourism. It was not that funny of a skit, and in poor taste. But it’s Saturday Night Live. A comedy show. Thailand’s culture minister has nonetheless called on YouTube to take down the video and on Washington to push Saturday Night Live’s producer to understand why the video is offensive to Thailand. Good luck with that.