BANGKOK – Human Rights Watch urged the Thai public prosecutor’s office on Wednesday to drop charges against 84-year-old historian Sulak Sivaraksa, who is accused of violating the Article 112 of the Penal Code on lèse-majesté that carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
Sulak, who was awarded the Right Livelihood Award by the Stockholm-based organization in 1995, will stand trial on Thursday before a military court in Bangkok for insulting the monarchy by questioning the historical accuracy of a 1592 elephant battle between King Naresuan of Thailand and Minchit Sra of Myanmar, during a talk at the Thammasat University.
“Academic freedom and free speech in Thailand will suffer devastating blows if the trial against Sulak proceeds,” the Executive Director of the Asian division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Brad Adams, said in a statement.
The statement also called the lèse-majesté an abusive and absurd provision and demanded the “immediate unconditional withdrawal” of charges against Sulak during Thursday’s hearing.
In a letter sent to the Thai foreign ministry two months ago, 44 Right Livelihood Award laureates had described the charges – presented three years ago and admitted by a military court in early October – as unsubstantiated.
They had said Sulak was simply exercising his freedom of academic expression to comment on a historical fact.
Thailand has been governed by a military junta since the last democratically elected government was overthrown in a coup in 2014, which brought lèse-majesté cases under the jurisdiction of military courts that often hand out stricter sentences.
Since the military junta came to power in the country in May 2014, at least 105 people have been arrested on lèse-majesté charges, as compared to a decade ago when it barely exceeded 10 a year.