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Thai PM agrees to study monarchy law reform

world Updated: Mar 06, 2009 11:51 IST

Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva on Friday agreed to consider reforming tough laws protecting the kingdom's revered monarchy following the launch of an international campaign.

Critics of the lese majeste law, which criminalises any insult or defamation of Thailand's royal family, say it is being used for political ends amid a growing crackdown on alleged violators.

More than 50 experts, including philosopher Noam Chomsky, have signed a campaign letter to be sent to the prime minister, but Abhisit pre-empted them on Friday by admitting to "problems" with the law's enforcement.

"Initially we will look into how the law is being enforced because in the past there were problems with how it was being enforced," Abhisit told reporters.

"We will clarify the law. I have already discussed the issue and conveyed concern from all parties with the national police chief," he said.

The lese majeste law in Thailand bans criticism of 81-year-old King Bhumibhol Adulyadej or any members of the royal family, and is punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

Last month Australian writer Harry Nicolaides was pardoned after being sentenced to three years in jail for slandering the crown prince in a self-published novel.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn, an outspoken political science professor, fled to Britain last month after he was charged over a book about a 2006 coup in Thailand.

The campaign letter calls for the release of individuals jailed under lese majeste laws, a reform of the law and an end to "suppressive measures against individuals, web sites, and the peaceful expressions of ideas".

Abhisit said any reform of the law, however, would be based on Thai principles and not bowing to foreign pressure.

"Any amendment will be based on clear reason because the law exists based on our history, culture and firm social structure. It is not for foreigners but for fairness," he said, adding that current cases would proceed under the existing law.

The monarchy's role in Thailand's recent political upheaval -- involving a self-proclaimed royalist group which blockaded Bangkok's airports last year -- remains one of the most sensitive subjects in the kingdom.

Officials say more than 4,800 web pages have been blocked since March last year because they contain content deemed insulting to the monarchy, and that at least 17 lese majeste cases are currently under way.