Insult This Man, Spend 15 Years in the Pokey

Thai pols accuse foes of slighting king to hamstring them
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2008 10:37 AM CDT
Anti-government demonstrators wave the national flag in front of a portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit after breaking through police lines in Bangkok, Thailand, Aug. 29, 2008.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – The crime of insulting a king sounds like a medieval holdover—but in Thailand, an unkind word about King Bhumibol Adulyadej can land you in prison for 15 years. The country's recent political upheaval has coincided with a spike in accusations of maligning the monarch, the Wall Street Journal reports—and everyone from opposition politicians to foreign journalists to unwitting moviegoers has been targeted.

The deeply revered monarch says he finds the law outdated and unnecessary, but pro- and anti-government forces routinely use the statute to attack each other. Slights can be trifling: a BBC correspondent faced investigation after the king's picture appeared below another politician's on a BBC website. One official facing jail for the crime called it “the ultimate weapon in Thai society.”