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Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason, and Lèse-Majesté (Rethinking Southeast Asia) [Hardcover]

by David Streckfuss
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 27, 2010 0415414253 978-0415414258 0
Since 2005, Thailand has been in crisis, with unprecedented political instability and the worst political violence seen in the country in decades. In the aftermath of a military coup in 2006, Thailand's press freedom ranking plunged, while arrests for lèse-majesté have skyrocketed to levels unknown in the modern world. Truth on Trial in Thailand traces the 110-year trajectory of defamation-based laws in Thailand. The most prominent of these is lèse-majesté, but defamation aspects also appear in laws on sedition and treason, the press and cinema, anti-communism, contempt of court, insulting of religion, as well as libel. This book makes the case that despite the appearance of growing democratization, authoritarian structures and urges still drive politics in Thailand; the long-term effects of defamation law adjudication has skewed the way that Thai society approaches and perceives "truth."

Employing the work of Habermas, Foucault, Agamben, and Schmitt to construct an alternative framework to understand Thai history, Streckfuss contends that Thai history has become "suspended" since 1958, and repeatedly declining to face the truth of history has set the stage for an endless state of crisis.

This book will be of interest to students and scholars of South East Asian politics, Asian history, and media and communication.

Editorial Reviews


"This big, brave and important book argues that defamation laws are the cornerstone of Thailand's authoritarian political culture. They have strangled the media, wrecked public debate, undermined artistic and intellectual work, and ensured impunity for a long litany of state crimes. They underpin an authoritarian control of thought and expression that is extraordinary in a country that likes to think of itself as a democracy... This book is a brilliant essay on Thailand's legal history based on very detailed research into legislation and case law. In addition, it offers a complex, thoughtful and wide-ranging diagnosis of current discontents. Its rich historical and international perspective should make Thailand's democrats and Democrats pause to wonder where the country is heading." Chris Baker, Bangkok Post, November 2010

"David Streckfuss has done a great service to the study of lèse-majesté law and of its role in protecting the political and economic interests of the Thai monarchy. [Truth on Trial in Thailand] is a fine, exhaustively referenced study of the history of lèse-majesté law and of Thailand’s defamation laws more generally. It will be an authoritative reference book for a public now very much focused on the problem that lèse-majesté poses for Thai democracy." Patrick Jory, NM-TLC Reviewer

 "The book’s thirteen chapters are rich in detail and observation... Thematically organized, the chapters offer an incomparable history of lèse-majesté, law and Thai-ness, public opinion, and the science of traitorology. Of especial relevance given the recent discussion of the judicialization of politics in Thailand is Streckfuss’s remarkable account... of the institutionalization of the “state of exception” by Thai courts working in conjunction with the police and military. This monumental volume is destined to take a leading place in the field of critical studies of Asia." Michael K. Connors, Critical Asian Studies, 43:1 (2011), 139–149

"[T]he real strength of the book is its fascinating analysis of a vast quantity of primary source material, including the analysis of a number of court decisions and some wonderful interviews with government censors." David M. Engel, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor, School of Law, State University of New York at Buffalo; South East Asia Research

'This book is an important one, and the author’s research chops are formidable. The book serves as a critical history of Thai law, with a discussion of how lèse-majesté encompasses the world of the monarchy, politics, law enforcement, and religion in Thailand.' - Geoff Alexander, WOwasis 2013.

About the Author

David Streckfuss is an independent scholar who has lived in Thailand for more than 20 years. His work primarily concerns human rights, and political and cultural history.

Product Details

  • Series: Rethinking Southeast Asia
  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (September 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415414253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415414258
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,269,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars for the serious observer of Thai society/politics/law November 12, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Thailand markets itself to tourists as a laid back place with easily accessible charms. Those who have lived there and peered beneath the surface of the veneer (just like anywhere else) have seen some of the warts. Institutionalized warts--codified warts related to a construct of national security/limitations on freedom of speech/opportunistic political exploitation of those limitations--are the subject of this book. It is an academic's piece-de-resistance, a thorough and careful analysis of the conundrum of using the legal code to control speech and loyalty, with disastrous absurdity. Dave Streckfuss knows his stuff. The book is for serious students of what's-wrong-with-this-picture? in the context of Thailand. It is also a clarion call for reform, a wagging of red flags that the authorities in Thailand would be wise to attend to--with a near certainty that they will not, if for no other reason than they have painted themselves into a corner, for to advocate change of the defamation and lese-majesty laws would almost certainly put them in the position of violating those same laws, which could result in 15-year prison terms, the most draconian penalties on the globe for such "offenses."
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth tried and yet untried October 24, 2010
David Streckfuss is a direct and honest story-teller, describing in this well-researched academic book a compendium of conundrum, Thailand's criminal defamation 'ethic.' With years of research, study and personal experience at the helm, Streckfuss takes the open-minded reader into what seems an intractable problem - how to come to grips with decades of lies and violence perpetrated by a dangerous and yet fearful elite bent on preserving their dominated status quo at all costs, using the revered Thai monarchy as shield and cause-célèbre.
Dr. Streckfuss is joined in an earlier work by FEDERICO FERRARA, Assistant Professor with the Department of Asian and International Studies at the City University of Hong Kong ([...]), who wrote one of the most frank accounts of Thailand's innate character in his book Thailand Unhinged, by Equinox Publishing.
Streckfuss' book, however, is written as an academic work and by having done so the researcher and avid campaigner for needed social-political change in Thailand has provided an extensive foundation for subsequent researchers, students and others who want to understand what is happening in Thailand and why.
Writes Streckfuss, "The cleavages in Thai society--class, race, ethnic, religious, regional, and political-- so long papered over and held together by incessant calls for unity and a century-old constructions of an ossified national identity, are no longer deniable or manageable. The linchpin is the lèse-majesté law. The law's use does not indicate the strength of the Thai state but rather its utter desperation.
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