August 13, 2007 / 3:11 AM / in 12 years

FACTBOX-Thailand's lese-majeste law

(Reuters) - A Thai professor is under investigation after being accused by a colleague of insulting revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej by posing examination questions about the role of the monarchy.

Here are some facts about laws against lese majeste, commonly defined as an offence or a crime committed against the sovereign of a state, in Thailand and elsewhere. THAILAND

Thailand’s lese majeste law is among the toughest in the world and enforced strictly. It sets jail terms of three to 15 years for anyone who “defames, insults or threatens” the King, Queen, heir apparent or regent.

The law has been strengthened over the years by successive military rulers. The prison term was raised to 15 years after 1976 student protests at Thammasat University were crushed.

The most recent conviction was of a Swiss man jailed for 10 years in March for defacing pictures of the King. He was deported swiftly after receiving a royal pardon.

In 1994, a French businessman was arrested for insulting the monarchy during a Thai Airways flight from London with two members of the royal family on board. He was acquitted. Critics say the law stifles debate on the monarchy, even though the King said in 2005 that he was not above criticism.

SPAIN

In July, a court ordered the satirical magazine “El Jueves” off the shelves after it published a cartoon of the heir to the throne having sex. Critics said the ruling violated free speech.

Under Spanish law, insulting the royal family is punishable by two years in prison.

BRITAIN

The 1848 Treason Felony Act imposes a life jail term for anyone urging the abolishment of the monarchy in print.

The law remains on the books after a failed court challenge by the Guardian newspaper in 2003, but the age of deference toward British royalty is long past.

The law has not stopped newspapers from airing republican views or blocked Web sites such as www.abolishthemonarchy.co.uk.

And after a string of scandals and divorces, the royals are often mocked by tabloids and satirists, including a new stage play that portrays the ruling Windsor family as sex-mad egomaniacs.

Nevertheless, there are times when the media has gone too far.

Last month, the BBC apologized to Queen Elizabeth for implying in a documentary trailer that she had stormed out of a photo-shoot with U.S. celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz.

BRUNEI

Oil-rich Brunei, one of the last absolute monarchies, has strict laws protecting Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and his family.

The Sedition Act carries a maximum 3-year jail term for anyone who violates “the rights, status position, discretion, powers, privileges, sovereignty, or prerogatives of the sultan, his spouse, successors, or other members of the royal family”.

Last year, three men were sentenced to one year in prison for sending mobile phone video clips deemed insulting to the royal family.

JAPAN

Lese majeste was repealed after the Second World War by General Douglas MacArthur, who led the post-war occupation. He said the Emperor “is entitled to no more and no less legal protection than that accorded to all other citizens of Japan”.

Tabloids engage in gossip about the imperial family’s stressful and tightly-controlled lives, but too much intrusion can touch a nerve.

In February, a book by an Australian journalist about the plight of Crown Princess Masako was denounced by the government as an insult the royal family.

Plans for a Japanese edition of “Princess Masako - Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne” were scrapped, but recent reports say a new publisher has agreed to print the book in Japan.

** SOURCES: U.S. State Department, The Guardian, Boston Globe, American Heritage Dictionary, Reuters.

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