Thai court drops royal insult charges against academic

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Sulak Sivaraksa, center, walks outside a military court in Bangkok, Wednesday, Jan. 17. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Sulak Sivaraksa, center, walks outside a military court in Bangkok, Wednesday, Jan. 17. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Bangkok (AP) — A military court on Wednesday dropped royal insult charges against an 84-year old historian who questioned whether a Thai king had actually defeated a Burmese adversary in combat on elephant-back over 500 years ago.

Sulak Sivaraksa was charged in October under the lese majeste law that protects the monarchy from libel and defamation. The Bangkok military court had agreed to hear views from historians and experts before it decided to drop the charges for lack of evidence.

Sulak, a veteran academic and proclaimed royalist, said he had petitioned His Majesty King, Vajiralongkorn for help in dropping the charges against him.

“I contacted many people for help but no one dared to. So I petitioned the king. If it weren’t for His Majesty’s grace, this case would not have been dropped,” he said.

His case stems from a 2014 university lecture when he told the audience to “not fall prey to propaganda” and questioned whether King Naraesuan had really won the 1593 battle by defeating a Burmese prince in solo combat mounted on a war elephant. The story is one of Thailand’s most celebrated historical feats and the date of the combat is marked each year with a military parade on Jan. 18.

Insulting the monarchy is punishable by three to 15 years in prison. The law in writing appears to only protect the king, queen, and heir apparent but in practice the rules are more widely interpreted.

Sulak has often criticized the lese majeste law and has faced at least five previous charges.