History is speeding up in Thailand. After 21 protestors died on the weekend, the country's electoral commission handed anti-government "red shirts" a victory yesterday by asking the ruling party, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, to resign. The head of the military, General Anupong Paochinda, said new elections should be called to break the impasse.
Which makes tonight's Foreign Correspondent
doubly interesting, with reporter Eric Campbell, and possibly the ABC's entire Bankgok bureau, likely to be black-banned from the country under its punitive lèse majesté laws
, which prohibit criticism of the monarchy.
Campbell will be the first television reporter to bust through the media taboo over lèse majesté, which has led to foreign reporters tip-toeing around statements critical of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his acolytes, for fear of arrest. In fact, any public comment that's considered insufficiently deferential can lead to 20-years in the clink. The laws famously snared struggling Australian author Harry Nicolaides
, when he was arrested at Bangkok airport in August 2008 for daring to write a few lines bagging the monarchy in a book that sold 7 copies.
But in recent weeks, the lese majeste facade has began to slip. Last month, The Economist
published an article
on the background to the riots that often goes unexamined -- the imminent succession of unpopular Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to the throne when his 82-year old father finally succumbs to respiratory illness. On Monday, The Guardian
ran a prominent op-ed
by Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a Thai academic who fled to the UK to avoid prosecution under the laws.
Campbell told Crikey
that his report, filmed three weeks ago, and brought forward in the wake of the weekend's bloodshed, will look at the background to the protests, which have seen pitched battles between the red shirts and an increasingly besieged military.
"The king has been is hospital for months his successor the Crown Prince is as unpopular as the king is an apparent living God. But under the draconian lese majeste laws, the full story hasn't really been broadcast."
In promotions for the program, the ABC says the story will deliberately examine the "crisis of succession and the intimidating use of a potent law to silence dissent and debate."
Campbell's report contains a controversial interview with the editor of dissident website Prachatai.com
, Chiranuch Premchaiporn. Police thugs raided the Prachatai website on 6 March -- this morning, the website was mysteriously offline. Last month, the webmaster of another pro-red shirt website, www.norporchorusa.com, was carted away under lese majeste.
Campbell said the subject matter was so controversial that he will never be able to return to the country and that he fears for the safety of journalists inside Thailand who flout the ban. As it stands, a Jetstar flight into Suvarnabhumi Airport could almost certainly land Campbell in the clink in the manner of Nicolaides.
In recent weeks, the situation in Thailand has taken on a more republican, populist, tone with red-shirt loyalty drifting away from thrice-elected tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra and towards a class-based movement, Real Democracy, targeting the military and the government. The protestors have been careful in the past to direct their criticism away from the King and towards his advisors in the Privy Council.
The four-man ABC Bangkok bureau could also suffer dire consequences. Asia Correspondent Mark Willacy has been filing reports
on the protests, but is under strict instructions to avoid overt criticism of the King. Campbell said he was careful to compile his report without the assistance of the bureau.
Foreign bureaux have a history of being tailed, and targeted. In 2008, the BBC’s Bangkok correspondent Jonathan Head faced charges under lèse majesté, before finally fleeing to Turkey to avoid arrest.