Sedition and Lèse-majesté

Emblem of Thailand, via widipedia.Two Australian stories recently caught my eye; and, although at first blush the only link is Australia, there is in fact a deeper connection. The first is from the BBC news Website:

Writer jailed for Thai ‘insult’

Australian writer Harry Nicolaides has been sentenced to three years in a Thai jail for insulting the monarchy. Nicolaides wrote a novel four years ago, which contained a brief passage referring to an unnamed crown prince. It sold just seven copies.

He admitted the charge of insulting the royal family, but said he was unaware he was committing an offence. Thailand’s monarchy is sheltered from public debate by some of the world’s most stringent “lèse-majesté” laws.

Later that same week, as if to underscore the stringency of these laws, Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a leading Thai left-wing academic, was charged with insulting the King in a 2007 book criticising the previous year’s military coup. [Update: there is a full assessment here, and a petition against it here, both from Index on Censorship]. There may perhaps have been some historical justification for lèse majesté law: when the King was the state, an attack on the King was an attack on the state. As the power of the king receded, so did the remit of lèse majesté laws, and attacks on the state came to be regulated by the doctrine of sedition. In Ireland, the common law crime of seditious libel is due to be abolished by Part 5 of the still-delayed Defamation Bill, 2006, and a very specific statutory provision has been repealed, but the general statutory regulation of the area by the Offences Against the State Acts, 1939 (also here) to 1998 (also here) is untouched (despite the careful, if over-cautious, recommendations of the Report of the Committee to Review the Offences against the State Acts 1930 [sic] – 1998).

This leads to the second Australian story, because, just at the end of last month, the Australian Attorney General announced that it would implement the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2006 report Fighting Words: A Review of Sedition Laws in Australia to repeal Australia‘s recently extended sedition laws (on these laws, see, eg, Douglas “Saving Australia from Sedition” [2002] FedLRev 5; on their reform, see: CLArion | No Right Turn | The Lift). It’s a pity that the similar Irish recommendations relating to the Offences Against the State legislation haven’t received a similar welcome.

In a modern democracy, a State should not be so precious as to need sedition or lèse-majesté laws; properly drafted incitement to violence legislation should be more than sufficient.

Oh, and given the Australian theme of this post, happy Australia Day!