Thai court drops royal insult case over 16th century duel

AFP
A Thai court has dropped a case against an elderly historian accused of insulting the monarchy when he questioned official accounts of a 16th-century elephant battle.
AFP
Reuters

Sulak Sivaraksa arrives for a court hearing where Thailand's military prosecutor will decide whether to proceed with a lese majeste case against him, in Bangkok, Thailand January 17, 2018.

A Thai court has dropped a case against an elderly historian accused of insulting the monarchy when he questioned official accounts of a 16th-century elephant battle.

Thailand’s strict lese majeste law carries a maximum sentence of 15 years per charge.

Prosecutions have surged under an ultra-royalist Thai military who seized power more than three years ago.

Wearing his trademark brimmed hat and walking with a cane, 85-year-old Sulak Sivaraksa welcomed the decision by a Bangkok military court to drop proceedings against him.

But Sulak was unapologetic over comments made at a 2014 seminar that took issue with the official narrative surrounding an elephant-mounted duel between a Thai king and Burmese crown prince said to have taken place more than 400 years ago.

“I stand by the facts, I stand by the truth. I don’t stand by falsehoods,” he said.?

“Everything is clear and they will instruct the police station not to pursue me any further.”

His case stunned observers as it revolved around the notion of defaming royals who have been dead for centuries.

Sulak has pointed out that the law, known in the criminal code simply as 112, covers only the king, queen, heir apparent and regent.

At court on Wednesday he said that the application of 112 in Thailand today had gone “too far”.

“That law has to be changed,” he said, adding that he believed the case was dropped thanks to the “grace” of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Vajiralongkorn took the throne in 2016 following the death of his revered father King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for seven decades.

Sulak has been charged by police four times before under the royal insult law but the cases have never gone to court.

He remains, however, an outspoken critic of the junta, saying free expression comes with consequences.

Earlier this month, a blind woman was jailed for 18 months for sharing an allegedly defamatory post on Facebook.

Most lese majeste cases are shrouded in secrecy and heard in closed-door trials.

Defendants are rarely granted bail or acquitted, leading many to plead guilty in exchange for lesser punishments.


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