Bangkok Blues Rebuttal

The Royal Thai Embassy responds to Joshua Kurlantzick's piece on Thailand's controversial lèse-majesté law.

Joshua Kurlantzick's article (Bangkok Blues, May 22, 2012), while trying to present a comprehensive analysis of Thai politics, has made a number of misleading points, regarding which the record must be set straight.

First, one argument that keeps recurring in Mr. Kurlantzick's article is that the Thai royal family and its so-called network, including the military, have continuously wielded their influences to shape the politics of the land. Here, it must be emphasized once again that the Thai monarchy is above partisan politics. Its role is clearly stipulated in successive Thai constitutions, to which His Majesty the King has always conscientiously adhered. Other than his "moral authority," the King has no formal power and hence exerts no control over the direction of the country's politics. Therefore, to argue that the Thai royal family has been interfering with politics is clearly misleading and highly inappropriate.

Second, Mr. Kurlantzick demonstrates his misconception about Thailand's lèse-majesté law. The law, as provided for in Section 112 of the Thai Penal Code, gives protection to the rights or reputations of the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent in a similar way libel law does for commoners. It is not aimed at curbing people's rights to freedom of opinion and expression nor the legitimate exercise of academic freedom including debates about the monarchy as an institution. Legal proceedings in such cases, including those of Mr. Lerpong Wichaikhammart (Joe Gordon) and the late Mr. Amphon Tangnoppagul (Akong), were carried out in accordance with the rule of law. All of them have been accorded due process as provided by the Thai Criminal Procedures Code including the right to fair trial, due opportunity to contest the charges and assistance from their lawyer as well as the right to appeal.

Lastly, Mr. Kurlantzick's choice of language to describe Thailand and its democracy is highly inappropriate. As with many other countries on the path towards a full-fledged democracy, Thailand has had to face many challenges. Be that as it may, if one looks at all the transformations that have taken place over the past decades, it must be said that democracy in Thailand is maturing in the right direction. With each challenge, the Kingdom has emerged stronger with its democratic institutions more resilient.

I hope you will publish this letter in order to provide your readers with a broader and a more fact-based perspective about Thailand.

Yours sincerely,

Arjaree Sriratanaban
Minister Counselor, Royal Thai Embassy 

Joshua Kurlantzick replies: 

Unfortunately, though in theory the embassy's comments on this matter are correct -- that the monarchy is a constitutional monarchy like Britain's or Holland's -- in reality Thais, and all observers of Thailand, know the situation is far different. Of course, truly open analysis of the monarchy in Thailand is not possible, as the lèse majesté law stifles all serious debate, but the two most acclaimed scholars of the monarchy, Duncan McCargo and Paul Handley, have shown in great detail how the institution, over time, has played a significant role in partisan politics, dating back to the restoration of the monarchy's power during the time of former ruler Sarit Thanarat. Were the lèse majesté law not in place -- and enforced vastly more harshly than any other similar statute in the world, as shown by the thorough analysis of the law by scholar David Streckfuss. I am sure that nearly every Thai studies scholar would admit that the monarchy, in playing a role in politics, is far different from those of Britain or Holland today.

In addition, the embassy's rebuttal related to libel is incorrect. The lèse majesté law is not like a libel law; in libel, a person who feels they have been slandered can file suit against the alleged libeler. But with the lèse majesté law in Thailand, unlike in most other monarchies, anyone can file suit against someone who allegedly committed lèse majesté. It's not just  the king, queen, regent, or other royals who need file the suit. Thus, even though the king has on several occasions indicated that he believes the lèse majesté law is too harsh, and has pardoned many alleged offenders, Thais continue to file lèse majesté suits against other Thais -- even though the person allegedly at issue in the suit (the king, queen, or another royal) is not directly involved. As scholar David Streckfuss has shown, Thailand now sees more suits like this than any country in the world, by far. Moreover, these cases have been rising steadily over the past decade, and Thailand's application of the law is harsher than that of any nation in history, save perhaps late 19th century Germany. Further study shows that most of the cases filed are lodged over political disputes or against a wide range of the most outspoken, liberal academics, scholars, and students in Thailand. There can be no doubt that the lèse majesté law, whatever its original intentions, is now the principal weapon of curtailing free expression in Thailand.

Is Thailand "maturing in the right direction?" No impartial analysis of the country seems to think so. While once known as a regional bastion of free discourse, Thailand's ranking in the major indices of press freedom, like those compiled by Reporters without Borders, as well as its rankings in analyses of online freedom, have fallen so badly that the country now stands amid some of the most repressive dictatorships in the world -- and no longer among what would seemingly be comparable democracies. Overall, in fact, a survey of the three leading annual evaluations of democratic trends worldwide -- Freedom House's index, the Economist Intelligence Unit index, and the Bertelsmann Foundation index -- finds that Thailand's democracy has regressed badly over the past 15 years. Today, Thailand once again seems poised on the brink of serious backsliding, with protestors, courts, and potentially the military prepared to overturn yet another elected Thai government.

Finally, I would ask the embassy one simple question, to judge their claims. Would anyone in the embassy be willing to return to Thailand and take part in an open, potentially critical dialogue on the future of the monarchy? I am sure that, worried about their own safety, no one would take up my offer.

Paula Bronstein /Getty Images


Introducing the FPwomerati

Why didn't Foreign Policy include more women in its Twitterati list? Here's a list of 100 female tweeters around the world that everyone should follow.

When Foreign Policy published its 2012 Twitterati 100 list, we could not help but be struck by the lack of women. Of the 100 tweeters Foreign Policy said "you need to follow," nearly 90 percent are men. Given the strong presence of smart, powerful, influential women on Twitter, we found this a bit hard to take. So, beginning near midnight U.S. East Coast time on Monday, a group of women from around the world created a list of interesting and influential activists, journalists, analysts, economists, geeks and wonks. Within a few hours, we had more than 200 names and our list had begun to make the rounds on Twitter.

How is this list different than FP's original list? It includes many prominent, influential women who know and tweet about foreign policy and international affairs but were overlooked by FP. It includes women who tweet in languages other than English, or tweet multilingually, and women who work and lecture in areas rarely covered by FP -- such as international development.

Most importantly, this is a list generated by a global network of inspired and knowledgeable women worldwide who contributed possibly lesser-known but fresh and important voices. The #FPwomerati list includes the invigorating diversity of local voices with insider information and breaking news who are not to be missed.


Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) -- Journalist with ABC & CNN. Obviously famous.

Michelle Caruso Cabrera (@mcaruso_cabrera) -- CNBC's chief international correspondent.

Alex Crawford (@AlexCrawfordSky) -- Correspondent for Sky News currently based in South Africa. Also tweets on the Middle East.

Polly Curtis (@pollycurtis) -- The Guardian's deputy national editor, tweeting about large swathes of the world.

Hala Gorani (@halagorani) -- Anchorwoman on CNN's International Desk and one of the top foreign policy "influencers."

Lucy Kafanov (@LucyKafanov) -- Self-described "voracious consumer of stories neglected by mainstream media." Lucky for us, she shares those stories too.

Azmat Khan (@AzmatZahra) -- PBS Frontline producer. Knows her national security.

Laura Rozen (@lrozen) -- All-around interesting foreign-policy reporter. When Laura tweets, people pay attention.

Philippa Thomas (@PhilippaNews) -- BBC journalist sharing global news and views.


Pia Ahrenki (@ECspokesPia) -- Spokesperson of the European Union. Tweets are a bit  "official," but keep you abreast of EU news.

Laura Chinchilla (@Laura_Ch) -- President of Costa Rica. Describes herself as "Politóloga, esposa, mamá y Primera Servidora de la República de Costa Rica." Tweets in Spanish.

Amb. Eileen Donahoe (@ambdonahoe) -- U.S. permanent representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council. (We urge Madame Ambassador to step up her Twitter game if she wants to hang around here.)

Julia Gillard (@JuliaGillard) -- The official Twitter account of the prime minister of Australia is a must-follow on Ozzie politics. Gillard herself tweets at times.

Neelie Kroes (@NeelieKroesEU) -- Vice President of the European Commission, fanatical about digital inclusion and rights.

Cecilia Malmström (@MalmstromEU) -- EU Home Affairs commissioner with tweets on numerous subjects, including human trafficking.

Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) -- Author and British member of Parliament. Mad tweeter of UK politics.

Marietje Schaake (@marietjed66) -- Dutch MEP with the D66 party, focused on human rights and Internet freedom. A trailblazer in the EU parliament.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (@NOIweala) -- Coordinating minister for Nigeria's economy and minister of finance, former Africa managing director at the World Bank.

Amb. Nirupama Rao (@NMenonRao) -- India's witty ambassador to the United States.

Viviane Reding (@VivianeRedingEU) -- No-nonsense EU commissioner for justice, citizenship, and fundamental rights. Also tweets about the Euro Cup.


Elmira Bayrasli (@endeavoringe) -- Expert on small and medium enterprise in emerging markets. Also knows Turkey inside out.

Sharon Bowles (@SharonBowlesMEP) -- Chair of the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee and UK MP. A must-follow on the eurozone crisis.

Stephanie Flanders (@BBCStephanie) -- Economics editor for the BBC.

Melinda Gates (@melindagates) -- Chair of the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. Tweets often on global, maternal, and child health.

How Matters (@intldogooder) -- Blogger writing about how to make aid more effective.

Molly Kinder (@MollyKinder) -- Former USAID staffer now working on food security issues with @ONECampaign.

Lauren Jenkins (@laurenist) -- Development blogger and Henry Kissinger of the zombie apocalypse.

Christine Lagarde (@lagarde) -- Director of the International Monetary Fund. Tweets a bit too "officially" at times but if you want to know what she says at the IMF, follow her.

Josette Sheeran (@JosetteSheeran) -- Vice chair of the World Economic Forum, formerly head of the U.N. World Food Programme.


Katharina Borchert (@lyssaslounge) -- CEO of SPIEGEL Online, Germany. Eclectic mix, great links.

Kseniya Sobchak (@xenia_sobchak) -- Russian opposition activist (tweets in Russian). Big following.

Miriam Elder (@MiriamElder) -- Moscow correspondent for the Guardian and 2011 Twitterati. We think she ought be on the list again this year.

Leila Nachawati (@leila_na) -- Spanish-Syrian activist crossing borders with her activism.

Theodora Oikonomides (@IrateGreek) -- Twitter handle not a misnomer. The woman is on fire on Greek politics and economics.

Claire Ulrich (@ClaireinParis) -- Editor of Global Voices. Tweets en français and then some.


Sarah Carr (@SarahCarr) -- Prize-winning Egyptian-British vlogger and blogger. Excellent analysis and live reporting of Egyptian activism.

Erin Cunningham (@erinmcunningham) -- Senior correspondent for the Middle East and North Africa for Global Post.

Dr. Nada Dhaif (@NadaDhaif) -- Bahraini human rights activist, previously sentenced to 15 years in prison, tweeting in Arabic and English.

Sanam Dolatshahi (@khorshid) -- BBC Persian reporter with expertise on Iranian cyberspace and women's movements.

Sarah Eldeeb (@seldeeb) -- AP correspondent in Cairo. Insightful reporting; great live tweeting of events on the ground.

Samia Errazzouki (@charquaouia) - D.C.-based Morocco editor of Jadaliyya's Maghreb page.

Dalia Ezzat @DaliaEzzat) -- Multilingual, Toronto-based Egyptian who tweets with great insight about Egyptian politics.

Razan Ghazzawi (@redrazan) -- Activist tweeting from the front lines of the Syrian conflict.

Jess Hill (@jessradio) -- Middle East correspondent @TheGlobalMail. Tweets and curates on the region.

Dima Khatib (@Dima_Khatib) -- Arab journalist, tweeting all Middle Eastern issues in three languages. Has 110,000+ followers.

Nadine Moawad (@nmoawad) -- Lebanese activist tweeting about feminism and rights.

Natasha Mozgovaya (@mozgovaya) -- Haaretz's chief U.S. correspondent, based in D.C. Smart and funny political insight.

Jodi Rudoren (@rudoren) -- Newly minted Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times.

Lara Setrakian (@lara) -- Freelance journalist and Middle East expert with a current focus on Syria; a 2011 Twitterati.

Hadeel Al Shalchi (@hadeelalsh) -- Middle East correspondent for Reuters in Libya.

Manal Al-Sharif (@Manal_alsharif) -- The activist behind Saudi's Women2Drive campaign. Tweets in Arabic mostly, with some English.

Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) -- Always-thoughtful blogger and Global Voices contributor from Israel.


Africa Techie (@AfricaTechie) -- Pseudonymous tweets on technology, corruption, and more in Africa.

Semhar Araia (@semhar) -- Founder and executive director of @DAWNInc, building a network of powerful diaspora African women.

Saran Kaba Jones (@SaranKJones) -- Executive director of @FaceAfrica, tweeting primarily about business and Africa.

Celeste Hicks (@ChadCeleste) -- Freelance journalist specializing in Africa and the Sahel. Worked in Chad, Mali, and Somalia for the BBC. Knows her stuff.

Dana Hughes (@dana_hughes) -- ABC reporter covering the State Department and foreign affairs, previously ABC correspondent covering Africa.

Rosebell Kagumire (@RosebellK) -- Journalist and blogger tweeting primarily on Uganda.

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenb (@wanjirukr) -- Founder and executive director of Akilli Dada, a leadership development incubator in Kenya; assistant professor at the University of San Francisco.

Solome Lemma (@InnovateAfrica) -- Co-founder of Africans in Diaspora, social entrepreneur, and emerging thought leader on African diaspora philanthropy.

Ory Okolloh (@KenyanPundit) -- Ushahidi co-founder and Google policy manager for Africa, tying together technology and politics.

Juliana Rotich (@afromusing) -- U.S.-based Kenyan co-founder of Ushahidi, tweeting about tech and politics from Nairobi.

Laura Seay (@texasinafrica) -- Political professor at Morehouse College, tweets brilliantly on community and NGO responses to state failure & conflict in central Africa. Also covers pirates.


Renata Avila (@avilarenata) -- Fiery Guatemalan lawyer and activist, tweeting about technology, WikiLeaks, and sharism.

Mariella Castro (@CastroEspinM) -- Daughter of Raul Castro and LGBT rights activist. Tweets mainly in Spanish.

Deborah Donello (@Mexicoreporter) -- Video reporter for AFP and FT, tweeting heavily about the drug war in Mexico.

Shannon O'Neil (@latintelligence) -- Council on Foreign Relations fellow on Latin America, tweets cover the region.

Sylvia Longmire (@drugwaranalyst) -- Former U.S. Air Force officer and security analyst based in Mexico. Just like the name implies.

Camila Vallejo (@camila_vallejo) -- Chilean leader of student movement. Tweets mainly in Spanish.


Xujun Eberlein (@insideoutchina) -- A thoughtful and unique perspective on China.

Kirsten Han (@kixes) -- Singaporean blogger tweeting on a wide range of issues.

Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) -- Writer and academic focused on the use of the Internet in Central Asia.

Louisa Lim (@limlouisa) -- NPR Beijing correspondent tweeting mostly about China.

Katy Pearce (@katypearce) -- Snarky university of Washington professor and Caucasus expert at the intersection of foreign policy and technology.

Angilee Shah (@angshah) -- Journalist covering local and international news, with an emphasis on Asia and globalization.

Gillian Wong (@gillianwong) -- Prolific Beijing-based tweets on China and then some.


Nighat Dad (@nighatdad) -- Freedom of expression and privacy activist in Pakistan.

Bharka Dutt (@bdutt) -- Anchor-Journalist at NDTV, India. Self-described argumentative and she is not kidding. Big following.

DushiYanthini Kanaga (@DushiYanthini) -- Sri Lankan journalist; tweets with a feminist twist.

Myra MacDonald (@myraemacdonald) -- Reuters journalist often found contextualizing South Asian politics.

Naheed Mustafa (@naheedmustafa) -- Award-winning Canadian journalist with deep knowledge and insight into Pakistan and Afghanistan. Often very funny.

Stephanie Nolen (@snolen) -- Award-winning Globe & Mail correspondent in India, sharing plenty of stories you will otherwise miss.

Sana Saleem (@sanasaleem) -- Pakistani Internet freedom activist and writer. Tells it like it is.

Urooj Zia (@UroojZia) -- Freelance journalist and rights activist with a no-nonsense take on Pakistan and much else.

Huma Yusuf (@humayusuf) -- Pakistani journalist, columnist, policy analyst, and media researcher.


Rebecca MacKinnon (@rmack) -- Author and activist focused on the rights of global Internet users. @FP_Magazine writer (included on list of FP'ers who tweet).

Katherine Maher (@krmaher) -- Always-informed tweets on a variety of topics, with some focus on the Middle East and technology.

Cynthia Wong (@cynthiamw) -- Indefatigable fighter for global Internet rights with the Center for Democracy and Technology in D.C.

Minky Worden (@minkysHighjinks) -- Director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch. Tweets strongly on women's issues and human rights.

Diana Wueger (@dianawueger) -- Focused on small arms, arms trade, and conflict.


Valerie Amos (@ValerieAmos) -- U.N. under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator. Passionate tweeter.

Helen Clark (@HelenClarkUNDP) -- Administrator of the U.N. Development Programme and former prime minister of New Zealand. Not boring.

Corinne Woods (@corinnewoods) -- Director of the U.N. Millennium Campaign.


AnonymousMiss (@netanon) -- Anonymous tweeter focused on digital security, cyberthreats, privacy. Has useful cyber security tips.

Matisse Bustos-Hawkes (@matissebh) -- Communications manager for @Witness, tweeting on global human rights and video for change.

Biella Coleman (@biellacoleman) -- Studies Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous. Much smarter than your usual Anonymous coverage.

Katie Dowd (@katiewdowd) -- Department of State Office of Innovation. Gets that tech, innovation, and foreign policy are hard. Passionate nonetheless.

Jennifer Preston (@NYT_JenPreston) -- New York Times correspondent with tweets on social media, open government, and politics.

Linda Raftree (@meowtree) -- Senior ICT4D advisor for Plan International. Tweets focused on women, privacy, and technology.

Eleanor Saitta (@dymaxion) -- Tweets about Internet freedom, information security.

Kim Zetter (@KimZetter) -- Indefatigable Wired reporter covering civil liberties and cybercrime.


We should note that the women FP included in its Top 100 list would have made ours as well. We think they are well deserving of recognition, so here they are again:

Golnaz Esfandiari (@GEsfandiari)

C. Christine Fair (@CChristineFair)

Megan Greene (@economistmeg)

Jean Lee (@newsjean)

Eman Al Nafjan (@Saudiwoman)

Lydia Polgreen (@lpolgreen)

Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice)

Anne-Marie Slaughter (@SlaughterAM)

Liz Sly (@LizSly)

Matina Stevis (@MatinaStevis)

Hiroko Tabuchi (@HirokoTabuchi)

Zeynep Tufekci (@techsoc)

Contributors to the #FPwomeratti list include:

@DaliaEzzat, @pialiroy, @Semhar, @anastasiaashman, @innovateafrica, @krmaher, @endeavoringe, @rosefox, @J_Schiff, @fulelo, @missyasin, @gwbstr, @angshah and @aliisiningo.

Submissions were edited by @jilliancyork, @katrinskaya, and @lisang.