Thailand has the strictest lèse majesté laws in the world. As a result, the full story of the country’s dramatic political conflict and the likely upheavals to come cannot be told in public.
As David Streckfuss writes in Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason and Lèse Majesté:
The operation of the lèse majesté law in Thailand creates a black hole of silence in the center of the Thai body politic. Political and social discourse is relegated to the fringes as whisperings and innuendo.
Unable to discuss such important but sensitive issues publicly, many Thais have found alternative ways to communicate news and opinion – through slogans with double meanings, coded language, the appropriation of certain symbols, and allegorical tales.
The issue has been the subject of an article on Thailand’s legendary Not the Nation satirical website:
The Ministry of Communications and Technology, or MICT, today released a list of over two thousand metaphors which are no longer legal in print media or online communications in Thailand…
Under the new law, anyone using one of the listed metaphors, or a simile version of the metaphor, is subject to up to 100,000 baht in fines and 3 years imprisonment. A complete list of the banned literary devices can be accessed at the Ministry’s website, and includes popular phrases such as “when the leaf finally falls from the tree,” “whispers behind the wall,” and “Lady Macbeth.”
A thorough review of the list shows that almost any metaphor referring to death, generational succession, natural transformation, females in power, sibling preference, hidden corridors of power, short-sightedness, immaturity, organized systems of belief, or things happening that lead invariably to other things, is now banned.
Now Andrew Walker of the Australian National University has written a wonderful account on his New Mandala blog of The Hi S tales, a set of intriguing Facebook posts discussing life in a Thai canned fish factory.
It is one of the most entertaining articles on Thai politics to be published in English for quite some time – not to mention one of the most illuminating. Highly recommended, and not just for those interested in fish.