Police Probe US Ambassador for Defaming Monarchy

A still image taken from a video of U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies on Nov. 25 at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand in Bangkok. Image: FCCT / YouTube

BANGKOK — U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies is under investigation for critical comments he made about Thailand’s harsh law against defaming the monarchy, known as lese majeste.

Police are investigating whether Davies himself is guilty of defaming the monarchy for comments made late last month at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, where the top American diplomat expressed “concern” about recent record sentences handed down by military tribunals for the crime, the club's president confirmed Wednesday.

FCCT President Jonathan Head, a longtime BBC correspondent, said on Twitter this morning the club had been asked to cooperate with a police investigation into Davies after Sontiya Sawasdee, a member of a group calling itself Federation Monitoring the Thai State, filed a complaint Thursday.

Sontiya reportedly presented to police as evidence a Facebook post from Jermsak Pinthong, a member of the now-defunct National Reform Council, criticizing the ambassador's talk to police to keep as an evidence.

The representative of the group urged police to obtain a transcription of the speech and investigate the event organizer’s “hidden agenda.”

A response from the U.S. Embassy could not be immediately obtained.

In his comments at the Nov. 25 event, Davies raised concerns about recent convictions and sentences for civilians tried in military courts. He said no one should be jailed for peacefully expressing their opinion.

"We're also concerned by the lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences handed down by Thai military courts against civilians for violating the lese majeste law," he said, according to AFP.


The comment provoked an uproar from ultra-royalists. On Nov. 27 a politically extremist monk led about 200 to protest in front of the embassy, despite a junta ban on political gatherings of more than five people. A few days later on Nov. 30, small protests were held in an apparently orchestrated campaign in provinces throughout the country to call for Davies’ removal.

Under the law, anyone can accuse anyone else of the crime, and police are obligated to investigate every accusation. It's punishable by prison sentences of up to 15 years per individual offense. Prosecutions which had been growing in recent years spiked since the junta seized power in 2014, according to rights observers and data from iLaw.

Whereas the law, Article 112 of the criminal code, was written to narrowly apply to direct offenses against His Majesty the King, Her Majesty the Queen, the Crown Prince and their Regent, it has become more broadly applied over the years, with some suggesting it applies to criticism of the law itself.

Davies was not the first U.S. official to criticize the law. Prior to the 2014 coup, it was a subject of regular discussion and debate at events hosted by the correspondents’ club. One month after the military seized power in May 2014, the junta banned such a discussion at the club.

In 2011, ultra-royalists staged a similar protest outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in response to comments from then-Ambassador Kristie Kenney, who said prosecution of the law was troubling and inconsistent with international rights standards.

The United States is well aware of the topic’s sensitivity. A 2007 diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks discusses the possible backlash from criticizing the law.

It also describes the use of the law as a “political tool” and  “formidable weapon in the Thai political arsenal.”

“The palace appears quite sensitive to the possibility that lese majeste could be abused by non-palace actors to achieve their own ends,” read the cable titled “Swiss Offer Lese Majeste Survival Guide."

Related stories:

An Open Letter to Ultra-Royalists

Ultra-Royalists Nationwide Demand Investigation of US Ambassador

Ultra Royalists Call for Removal of U.S. Ambassador

Lese Majeste Discussion Blocked by Junta: FCCT