BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai man who refused to stand during the royal anthem before a movie last year was formally accused on Tuesday with insulting the monarchy, the latest case to drag Thailand’s draconian lese majeste law into the spotlight.
“Not standing is no crime,” Chotisak Onsoong, 27, told reporters outside the Bangkok police station to which he had been summoned to accept the charge of insulting the crown, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
“I would like to stress that what I did was not intended to insult or express vengeance to the king,” he added, saying he was simply expressing his right to freedom of expression.
A song and video espousing the virtues of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whom many Thais regard as semi-divine, is played before every movie-screening. Cinema goers are told to stand for the anthem.
However, Chotisak’s decision to remain seated — only a year after an overtly royalist military coup — caused a stir in the cinema, with several movie-goers showering him with abuse, pop corn and bottles of water.
One man was so incensed he ended up scuffling with Chotisak in the aisle before the pair were separated by police. The man subsequently filed a lese majeste complaint against Chotisak, a prominent campaigner against the September 2006 coup.
Thailand’s lese majeste laws are among the toughest in the world, but are open to abuse since a complaint can be filed by anybody.
They were a regular feature of the charged political atmosphere that preceded the coup, although cases rarely advanced as far as the formal laying of charges.
The only case that did go the distance was that of a 57-year-old Swiss man who received 10 years in jail in March 2007 for daubing six pictures of Bhumibol with black paint during a drunken rampage on the monarch’s birthday.
The 80-year-old Bhumibol, who has said he is not above criticism, pardoned Jufer but not before he had spent four months in jail. Jufer, a long-term resident of Thailand, was deported.
Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler