Thai princess celebrates birthday with amnesty of 38,000 prisoners
Thailand’s military regime marked the 60th birthday of Princess Sirindhorn with the release of 38,000 prisoners from the country’s jails in a royal amnesty. A new 100-baht note has also been issued with her image on it.
The popular princess’s birthday came yesterday as her father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, remains in hospital. Her brother, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 62, is in line to succeed King Bhumibol.
It also came a day after the military regime that seized power almost 10 months ago replaced martial law, in force since the coup d’etat, with Section 44 of the interim constitution drawn up by the military itself.
The law tightens the regime’s grip on Thailand, placing even more power in the hands of the prime minister, General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who carried out the coup when he was army chief. He subsequently retired and was rubber-stamped by the hand-picked national assembly to occupy the premier’s position.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in Geneva yesterday: “I am alarmed at the decision to replace martial law with something even more draconian, which bestows unlimited powers on the current prime minister without any judicial oversight at all.”
Human Rights Watch’s Thailand researcher Sunai Phasuk said in a tweet on Wednesday: “Replacing martial law with Constitution Article 44 means Prayuth has ultimate power with total impunity.”
Ironically, the celebrations come as the military dampened the mood by conducting a sweeping crackdown on critics of the monarchy.
Last year, before the May coup, there were just five people in jail under Article 112 – the harsh lese majeste law that insulates the monarchy from criticism.
Currently, there are between 40 and 44 in jail, says legal case tracking organization iLaw.
In the latest case on Tuesday, businessman Theinsutham Suthijittaseranee, 58, was found guilty of defaming Thailand’s royal family and jailed for 25 years – a sentence Amnesty International said was “preposterous.”
Many Thais visiting exhibitions on the princess’s life in downtown Bangkok dressed in purple – a color that, like yellow for the King, symbolizes the princess. At the exhibitions featuring paintings and photographs of her as a child and in later life mingling with the people, Thais eagerly snapped up purple T-shirts.
On Sunday, the princess will play the ranad, a classical instrument, at a concert at the National Museum while traditional Thai dancers perform an episode from the Ramayana.
The princess is single, and her public image is one of simplicity. At one exhibition at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre, 24-year-old Purichaya “Punch” Sukpornsawan, who recently graduated from Silapakorn University, said: “I think you can say that after the King, she is the most popular figure of the royal family.”
Asked about the threat to the monarchy cited by the military regime, she said: “If the government is saying there are threats, I think there are, from maybe a small part of the Thai people because I still believe that Thai people in general respect and are loyal to the King.”
Lee Limawurarut, 48, told The Straits Times: “In other countries, a king may be just a symbol for the people. But here in Thailand, the King is the father of the nation. We won’t let anybody bring our father down. For the government to say that there are threats to the monarchy is a tool to reunite the Thai people.”
Associate Professor Pavin Chachavalpongpun at Kyoto University’s Center for South-east Asian Studies told The Straits Times: “At this critical moment, they need an occasion like this. The celebrations are a way of trying to revive the position of the monarchy as an institution.”
Thailand-based academic David Streckfuss, author of a book on Thailand’s lese majeste law, said in a phone interview: “The entire Thai political system has been in crisis and paralysis… but the military is continuing the tradition of presenting the monarchy at the centre of Thai public life.”
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