1 a : a crime (such as treason) committed against a sovereign power
b : an offense violating the dignity of a ruler as the representative of a sovereign power
2 : a detraction from or affront to dignity or importance
Lèse-majesté (or lese majesty, as it is also styled in English publications) comes into English by way of Middle French, from the Latin laesa majestas, which literally means “injured majesty.” The English term can conceivably cover any offense against a sovereign power or its ruler, from treason to a simple breach of etiquette. Lèse-majesté has also acquired a more lighthearted or ironic meaning, referring to an insult or impudence to a particularly pompous or self-important person or organization. As such, it may be applied to a relatively inoffensive act that has been exaggeratedly treated as if it were a great affront.https://www.merriam-webster.com/word-of-the-day/l%C3%A8se-majest%C3%A9-2019-09-25
For most of us, living in Canada or most western countries, think that criticism of our government is a fundamental human right, acknowledged and supported by our laws and courts. Within some limits, defying authority or calling authority into question is one of the most crucial of our human rights to the maintenance of democracy.
This fundamental human right is not so fundamental if you live in Thailand. To most Canadians Thailand is just a great place to go on a vacation, not a place where human rights take a backseat to the monarchy. In Thailand, criticizing the government comes with very real consequences, including long jail terms.
And you don’t have to be the author of the criticism, just ask Chanoknan “Cartoon” Ruamsap, who made the mistake of “sharing” a controversial Facebook entry. A pro-democracy activist, Chanoknan “Cartoon” Ruamsap fled into exile on Sunday, ahead of arrest by military order for sharing on her Facebook account a BBC profile of His Majesty the King.
But in the end, it’s me who made the decision. The time I spent to decide was so short and quick. I had less than 30 minutes to decide whether to stay or to leave. What is difficult is the fact that I won’t return after this journey.https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/politics/1403522/activist-chanoknan-flees-lese-majeste-summons
Then I went to say goodbye to dad and mom. Everyone was shocked but agreed. No one wanted me to be in jail for five years merely because sharing a BBC news story.
On the first day I arrived here, I only cried because I saw no way out. Everything seems puzzling and confusing. I didn’t know how to deal with them. I kept asking myself a question whether I made the right decision to seek refuge or I should go back, and I can meet family and friends as usual after serving the jail term. But I got the answer that I couldn’t backtrack now.
And lest you think that these laws are unique to Thailand, with its backward government and oppressive system of administration of justice, think again. There are current laws in Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, and Spain, in Europe against insulting the crown, and committing lese majeste, under which an offender could also spend years in jail, or face significant fines or other penalties. Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia as well as the African nation of Morocco, and the Asian nations of Malaysia and Cambodia all have similar laws on the books, which are various enforced in modern times.
So why would a modern nation, like the Netherlands, or Denmark, maintain what seems like something out of medieval times. Don’t they understand civil rights, and the right to speak out to authority? Well, it turns out, not so much. Both of those countries, as well as Thailand, do allow criticism of the government, or of government policies. What they don’t allow is insulting and gratuitous attacks on the crown, or on the government leadership.
In Canada there are no lese majeste laws, as such, but even in Canada it is important to frame critical comments against the government or the crown in language that is not personally insulting to her majesty, the Queen or her family. But not because there is laws against it, but because it is unnecessary to personalize criticisms against the government or crown.
It’s fine to attack the monarchy, if you would prefer a republic, for example. Just do it with class and reasonably good manners. Most Canadians would be quite unhappy to hear someone committing lese majesty, even if its not illegal.
Even in countries like Canada or the United States freedom of speech has some limits.