Thailand Spiritual Activist Faces Royal Insult Charge
Prominent social, environmental, and spiritual activist Sulak Sivaraksa has been accused of ‘insulting’ a past king of Thailand. In late October, two retired army officers filed a complaint against Sulak, 82, over remarks he made at a seminar on Oct. 12 that included comments about King Naresuan, a national hero who died in 1605.
Thailand has strict lese-majesty laws which punish those found guilty of “defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen or heir to the throne or regent.” Each offense carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail. This is the first time that the laws have been applied to such a distant historical king. Despite Thailand’s designation as a democracy, critics claim that the lese-majesty laws have been used to silence debate and dissent throughout Thailand’s many military juntas.
Sulak has not as of yet responded to the accusations, and he has not been detained. In the past, he has called for an end to Thailand’s majesty laws.
Thailand’s Unrepentant and Unstoppable Activist
Traveling the world for the past 40 years, Sulak has lectured, wrote, mentored, participated in inter-religious dialogues, and worked with other activists, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dali Lama, and Thich Nhat Hanh. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice, was awarded the Right Livelihood award in 1995, and the Niwano Peace Prize in 2011.
As an Engaged Buddhist, Sulak has openly opposed the massive economic and industrial growth in his country because of damage to the ecosystem. In a 1996 court case, he opposed the Thailand-Burma gas pipeline project, arguing that the project had been pushed ahead by the Thailand government without heeding public opinion. Concerned greatly about nature and the environment, Sulak feared that the pipeline would bring about massive deforestation and destruction to the pristine environment of forests in the Kanchanaburi province.
“This Oppressive Environment Is Like a Tightening Noose”
Sulak Sivaraksa believes that social and environmental justice are intrinsically linked. He argues that capitalism, consumerism, and natural resource extraction ignores the limits of the environment and erodes spiritual life.
“The diverse ways of life worldwide increasingly dance to the same tune of consumer culture, which insists that ultimate happiness can be achieved by the never-ending consumption of goods and services…This oppressive environment is like a tightening noose that will squeeze the life out of meaningful freedom, democracy, and human rights.”
Sulak’s ideals have made him a target of the Thai government. He’s been exiled from the country on two occasions (1976-77 and 1991-94), jailed four times, and accused repeatedly of defaming the Thailand monarchy. However, these accusations have never been proven. And, if history proves correct, this recent attempt to dissuade Sulak from speaking out will also likely fail.
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