A Thai man faces possible criminal conviction for failing to stand up when the royal anthem was played at a cinema in Bangkok. In theory he could be found guilty of lese majeste under the Criminal Code, but it’s more likely that a lesser charge may be brought. Although the event happened last September, charges have only just been laid.
The man in question is Chotisak Onsoong, aged 27, who is described in today’s edition of the Bangkok Post as a former student activist and secretary of a group prominent against the September 2006 coup. Mr Chotisak was visiting the cinema in Bangkok with friends. As is customary at cinemas in Thailand, a royal anthem is played before the movie and everybody is expected to stand up. Mr. Chotisak didn’t stand up. Another Thai man, Mr. Nawamin, asked Chotisak to stand up. Chotisak refused and Nawamin demanded that the cinema authorities take action but nothing happened. As a consequence, Mr. Nawamin went to the police to file charges against Mr Chotisak.
There may be many people reading this thinking, ‘What kind of country is Thailand? Can you really get prosecuted for not standing up in the cinema?’ Well, there is a Thai law which says:
“Individuals must pay their respects to the national anthem, the Royal anthem and other anthems which are played at an official service, social ceremony or entertainment venue.”
Violators may face a fine, one month in jail or both.
There’s another law which covers the more serious offence of lese majeste:
“Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir to the Throne or the Regent shall be punished.”
Punishment for lese majeste can range from 3 to 15 years in prison.
Chatisak insists he did nothing wrong and did not intend to insult the king. He says he has the right to freedom of expression and his right to choose whether to stand or not is enshrined by Articles 4 and 28 of the Constitution.