Ex-Prince of Thailand Meets With Outspoken Critic of Monarchy

A former member of the Thai royal family, who left the country after his parents’ divorce in 1996, has met with a prominent dissident who has been vocal about the nation’s strict law on royal insults.

A Rare Encounter Between Royal and Rebel

Vacharaesorn Vivacharawongse, a son of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, attended an exhibition on Monday at New York’s Columbia University, where he talked to Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University and a leading critic of the Thai monarchy. The exhibition, organized by Pavin, showcased the lives and stories of some Thais who have been charged with violating the lese majeste law, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for anyone who defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent.

Ex-Prince of Thailand Meets With Outspoken Critic of Monarchy
Ex-Prince of Thailand Meets With Outspoken Critic of Monarchy

The meeting was a rare and surprising event, as Vacharaesorn had spent years estranged from the royal family and had not visited Thailand for nearly three decades. He returned to his homeland last month, accompanied by his younger brother, and received a warm welcome from some Thais who saw him as a potential successor to the throne. The line of succession in the Thai monarchy remains unclear, as King Vajiralongkorn has not appointed an heir.

A Civil Discussion About a Barbaric Topic

Vacharaesorn, 42, said he attended the exhibition out of curiosity and respect for different opinions. He wrote on Facebook that he loved and worshiped the monarchy, but he believed it was better to “know” than not. He said everyone had their own views and experiences, and ignoring them would not make them disappear.

Pavin, who fled Thailand in 2014 after being summoned by the military junta that seized power in a coup, said he was honored by Vacharaesorn’s attendance. He wrote on Facebook that this was a civil discussion about a barbaric topic, and that society could not move forward without the old guards opening their hearts to listen to problems.

Pavin has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the lese majeste law, which he argues is used to silence dissent and stifle democracy. He has also been critical of King Vajiralongkorn’s personal life and political influence. He has faced several legal threats and cyberattacks from Thai authorities and royalists, who accuse him of being a traitor and a liar.

A Controversial Law That Divides Thailand

The lese majeste law has been a source of controversy and conflict in Thailand for decades. It has been invoked frequently in recent years, especially during periods of political turmoil and mass protests. According to human rights groups, more than 100 people have been prosecuted under the law since 2014, when the military coup ousted an elected government led by Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was also ousted by a coup in 2006.

The law has also sparked criticism from international organizations and foreign governments, who have urged Thailand to respect freedom of expression and human rights. The United Nations has called on Thailand to amend or repeal the law, saying it is incompatible with international standards and principles.

The law has also faced resistance from some Thais, especially young activists and students, who have staged unprecedented demonstrations since last year, demanding reforms to the monarchy and the constitution. They have also challenged the taboo on criticizing the king and his family, risking arrest and imprisonment.

The Thai government has defended the law as necessary to protect the dignity and security of the monarchy, which it considers as the pillar of national identity and unity. It has also warned that anyone who violates the law will face legal action and social condemnation.

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