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Swiss may spend years in prison under Thailand lese-majeste law
A Swiss man will go to court in Thailand today, facing 75 years in jail for defacing images of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on the revered monarch's birthday.

Oliver Rudolf Jufer, 57, is charged with five acts of lese-majeste in Thailand, one of the few countries in the world that strictly prosecutes anything deemed to demean the royal family.

A long-term resident, Jufer was arrested in December in the northern city of Chiang Mai after black paint was sprayed on several portraits of King Bhumibol, 79, whom many Thais regard as semi-divine and a cornerstone of stability in times of crisis.

Jufer, whose trial dates are expected to be set today, has been in jail while police investigated an incident which falls under strict lese-majeste laws that carry a penalty of three to 15 years in jail for any insult to a royal.

Police are seeking five consecutive jail terms for Jufer, whose case has received little coverage in the Thai press.

"This is a delicate issue and we don't want the public to know much about it," Chiang Mai chief prosecutor Manoon Moongpanchon told Reuters in February.

Few other countries have lese-majeste on the books and prosecutions are infrequent.

In 2001, four youths were fined for throwing a cream pie at King Carl Gustaf, Sweden's first treason case in living memory.

In Japan, where tabloids engage in detailed gossip about royals that would be unheard of in Thailand, lese-majeste was repealed after the World War II by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur.

Macarthur, who headed the post-war occupation authority, wrote that the Emperor "is entitled to no more and no less legal protection than that accorded to all other citizens of Japan."

For most Thais, only the most delicate portrayal of the world's longest-reigning monarch and his family is acceptable.

Foreigners are expected to show similar respect, and not doing so can have serious consequences.

European faces jail for insulting Thai king
By A Special Correspondent in Chiang Mai

A Swiss man today admitted five charges of insulting Thailand's revered king by spray-painting posters of the monarch on the evening of his birthday.


Oliver Jufer is facing up to 15 years in prison

Oliver Jufer, 57, who has been held in prison for more than three months, appeared at Chiang Mai provincial court in shackles and a brown inmate's uniform, for a secret session.

Members of the public and journalists were barred from the hearing, and earlier court officials told reporters it had been postponed in an effort to get them to leave.

Jufer, from Zurich, faces between three and 15 years in prison for lése majèste when he is sentenced later this month, the court said in a statement afterwards. His guilty plea would normally result in the penalty being halved.

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world's longest-reigning monarch, and one of the few who is still protected by tough laws that prohibit any insult to the royal family.

According to police reports, Jufer was drunk when he was denied the right to buy alcohol on the evening of Dec 5, the King's birthday and a public holiday when sales are barred.

Enraged, he bought two cans of spray paint and that night graffittied five portraits of the monarch.

The case is so sensitive that Thai media have barely covered it, after police urged local journalists not to do so.

 
Thailand's King Bhumibol reviews a parade with Thailand's Queen Sirikit to mark his birthday in BangkokThailand's King Bhumibol reviews a parade with Thailand's Queen Sirikit to mark his birthday in Bangkok
King Bhumibol reviews a parade with Queen Sirikit

Bhanu Kwanyuen, the prosecutor, said: "It's against the King, the royal family, that's why it's serious. It doesn't do any good to tell this story to other people, because it's against the King."

Asked about his client's motives for the crime, his own defence lawyer Komkhit Kunyodying said: "I was appointed by the court. I cannot answer for him."

A spokesman for the Swiss embassy, which did not send a representative to the court, said it was too early to say whether Thai-Swiss relations would be affected.

"We are never happy when a Swiss national is in prison," he said. "If he has pleaded guilty that may complicate the issue. I think this is not a good sign."

Thai king's image 'defaced'
A Swiss man who appeared in shackles in a Thai court today faces a 75-year jail term after being convicted of lese-majeste for insulting the country's revered king, viewed by many as semi-divine. Oliver Jufer, 57, pleaded guilty to five counts of insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej by defacing portraits of the monarch with spray paint during celebrations of his 79th birthday last year. Oliver Rudolf Jufer, 57, was caught by surveillance cameras on Dec 5 spraying black paint over posters of the King in Chiang Mai city, police said. His action coincided with the King's 79th birthday, which was celebrated across Thailand with fireworks and prayers. Jufer made no comment as he entered the courthouse, his legs chained and wearing an orange prison uniform. Judge Chaikrit Devaplin said Jufer pleaded guilty, reversing an initial statement of not-guilty he had made to police. L'se majest' ' the crime of violating majesty, an offense against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state ' carries a penalty of three to 15 years in jail in Thailand, one of the few countries that prosecute strictly anything deemed to demean the royal family. The Swiss was arrested in December in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where he has lived for ten years, after black paint was sprayed on several portraits of the 79-year-old king, the world's longest-reigning monarch. Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world's longest-reigning monarch, and one of the few who is still protected by tough laws that prohibit any insult to the royal family. According to police reports, Jufer was drunk when he was denied the right to buy alcohol on the evening of Dec 5, the King's birthday and a public holiday when sales are barred. Enraged, he bought two cans of spray paint and that night graffittied five portraits of the monarch.

A Swiss man was convicted in Thailand today on charges of lese majeste and damaging property for defacing images of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In court, Jufer pleaded guilty to five charges under Thailand's draconian lese majeste law. He is due to be sentenced later this month, and the maximum penalty he could face is 75 years in jail. Jufer's lawyer said the minimum sentence he faced was seven-and-a-half years. The king is the world's longest serving monarch. Jufer made no comment as he entered the courthouse with his legs chained, dressed in an orange prison uniform. Judge Chaikrit Devaplin said Jufer pleaded guilty, reversing an initial statement of non-guilt that he had made to police, and a sentence was expected to be issued March 29.[7]

Jufer's court-appointed lawyer, Komkhit Kunyodying, said his client was drunk when he was caught on security cameras spraying black paint on the ubiquitous posters of the king in frustration at not being able to buy more alcohol. The lawyer said he hoped the guilty plea might reduce the jail term when Jufer is sentenced on March 29, though he feared that in the circumstances the judge could not sentence his client to less than seven-and-a-half years. Jufer was arrested in December after black paint was sprayed on portraits of the king, whom many Thais regard as semi-divine. TORRANCE -- Residents in this southern California city are finding out development stinks.

Police said Jufer was drunk when the portraits were attacked and that the vandalism was carried out on December 5, the King's birthday and a national holiday. Other foreigners have broken the law occasionally, but jail terms are rare. Jufer, whose trial dates are expected to be set on Monday, has been in jail while police investigated an incident which falls under strict lese majeste laws that carry a penalty of three to 15 years in jail for any insult to a royal. Oliver Rudolf Jufer, 57, is charged with five acts of lese majeste in Thailand, one of the few countries in the world that strictly prosecutes anything deemed to demean the royal family. Lse-majest carries a penalty of 3 to 15 years in jail in Thailand, one of the few countries that prosecutes strictly anything deemed to demean the royal family. Jufer, wearing orange-brown prison clothes with iron shackles on his ankles and wrists, said nothing to reporters. His guilty plea could help reduce the sentence, but he would almost certainly spend time in jail, said his lawyer, Komkrit Kunyodying. "Personally, I dont think he will get a suspended sentence," Komkrit said.

Bhanu Kwanyuen, the prosecutor, said: "It's against the King, the royal family, that's why it's serious. It doesn't do any good to tell this story to other people, because it's against the King." Asked about his client's motives for the crime, his own defence lawyer Komkhit Kunyodying said: "I was appointed by the court. I cannot answer for him."

I myself have written several articles about the role of the King and politics in Thailand. WERDEN: But Thai specialist at La Trobe University Michael Connors says those academics who have been critical of the system have written in English and not their native Thai. CONNORS: Last year in his birthday speech, the King said, he expressed annoyance at the law because apparently it irritates him and he said if it goes to court and the person is found guilty he generally pardons them.

A Swiss man faces up to 75 years in jail after pleading guilty yesterday to five charges of insulting the monarchy by painting over images of His Majesty the King. Without any public debate there seems no possibility of amending the law, which allows any Thai citizen to bring a charge against anyone else for insulting the king. Thai law allows anyone to file a lèse majesté complaint with the police, which makes people reluctant to engage in any sort of public conversation about the king or his family.[13] Police reportedly asked local journalists not to write about it because of sensitivities regarding portraying the king in a negative light. While free in many respects, the Thai media refrain from commenting on the monarchy, lest they violate the vaguely defined "lèse majesté" law, which allows almost anyone to file such charges. The image of the monarchy is very carefully managed, with local media only allowed to lavish praise on the king, our correspondent says. The popular reverence for him is genuine, but the draconian laws deter most Thais from even discussing the monarchy. The king himself appeared to question this in a recent speech when he said it was wrong to put him above criticism. "I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know," he said.

A Frenchman, Lech Tomacz Kisielwicz, who made a derogatory remark about a Thai princess while on a Thai Airways flight in 1995, was arrested on landing in Bangkok and charged with offending the monarchy. He was detained for two weeks and acquitted after sending a written apology to the king.

The closed-door hearing was told that Jufer was arrested in December for defacing pictures of the world's longest reigning monarch, who marked 60 years on the throne last June. The hearing in the northern city of Chang Mai took place behind closed doors and the prosecutor declined to reveal details of the case for fear the image of the king, the world's longest reigning monarch, might be tarnished. At one point during today's hearing the prosecutor came out and told us the case would be postponed, and heard later in closed session. "We don't want the media," he said. "We don't want the Thai people to know about this. No good result can come from their knowing about cases concerning the king." It was a lie.

Police are seeking five consecutive jail terms for Jufer, whose case has received almost no coverage in the Thai press. "This is a delicate issue and we don't want the public to know much about it," Manoon Moongpanchon, the local chief prosecutor said. [16] WERDEN: The journalist says Mr Jufer's decision to plead guilty could see any jail sentence halved. WONG-ANAN: From my understanding, from the Thais who have served this sentence before, a more recent one was a well known politician he did serve his sentence for a few months and then there was a mass pardon. WERDEN: The former Thai Senator Kraisak Choonhavan says criticism of the monarch is allowed providing its not malicious.[12]

"If you say the king cannot be criticised, it means that the king is not human." Thais genuinely revere their monarch, with many donning yellow shirts as a mark of devotion each Monday, the day of his birth.[1]

Chiang Mai, about 350 miles north of Bangkok, is Thaksin's hometown and a key base of support for the former prime minister. Millions of portraits of the king were erected late last year to honor his birthday. [7] A major problem is that the law is vague and almost anyone can level an accusation of lese majeste, thereby triggering a police investigation, said Somchai Preechasinlapakul, dean of the faculty of law at Chiang Mai University. "Often during political turmoil, the law is exploited as a tool to attack political opponents," he said.[16] Very few would wish to say anything unfavourable about the king, which is one reason why cases of Lese Majeste are quite rare. It would seem the law is not really needed.[15]

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed in a coup in September 2006, and his opponents had hurled accusations of "lèse majesté" on each other. The prohibitive nature of the law has grown such that criticism of the law itself can be construed as disloyalty to the king. King Bhumibol himself has said he was not above criticism. In his 2005 birthday address, he said, "Actually, I must also be criticised. [14] King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born in Massachusetts, the United States, in 1927 and ascended the throne in 1946, making him the world's longest-serving current head of state. His official powers are limited, but he wields enormous influence because of popular backing. In 1948 Bhumibol was driving on the Geneva-Lausanne highway when he crashed into a braking truck, incurring cuts on his face that cost him the sight in his right eye.[3]

In the past charges have often been dropped or foreigners ordered out of the country after entering guilty pleas. The king himself, who celebrated 60 years on the throne last year, said in an earlier birthday speech that he would no longer take lese-majeste charges seriously as it would put him above criticism. "I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know," he said. [1] A spokesman for the Swiss embassy, which did not send a representative to the court, said it was too early to say whether Thai-Swiss relations would be affected. "We are never happy when a Swiss national is in prison," he said. "If he has pleaded guilty that may complicate the issue. I think this is not a good sign."[4] AFP news agency reports, court officials and police provided few details of the three-hour hearing held behind closed doors, citing sensitivities surrounding the monarchy.[17]

For most Thais, only the most delicate portrayal of the royal family is acceptable and foreigners are expected to show similar respect. Other foreigners have run foul of the law occasionally, but jail terms are rare. [3] KRAISAK: We have a thriving capitalist society but the political aspect of Thailand remains still quite feudal in a way, the king is revered as almost a divine.[12]

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