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Map of Thailand.
A US man is facing up to two years in jail in Thailand after posting negative reviews of a hotel he stayed in... Mr Barnes posted several negative reviews of the property, after which the hotel sued him for defamation. Mr Barnes was subsequently detained and says he spent two nights in prison before he was released on bail. If found guilty of breaking the country's notorious anti-defamation laws he could face up to two years in prison.
BBC News, 29 September 2020.[1]

The Kingdom of Thailand (Thai: ประเทศไทย, Prathet Thai), formerly known as Siam, is a country located in Southeast Asia between Burma and Indochina. Thailand is notable for successfully surviving the 19th-century wave of European imperialism in Asia by playing the British Empire and the French Empire off each other. However, it failed to survive when Japan invaded in World War II. It is theoretically a constitutional monarchy today, but the country's king has significant political powers and privileges, and the military frequently likes to overthrow the civilian government. Thailand is infamous for sex tourism, child prostitution, and human trafficking. The country's capital is Bangkok, and over 94% of the country's population are Buddhists.[2]

The Thai people are thought to have migrated into the region from southern China. In Medieval times, they were conquered and subjugated by the Khmer Empire, the ancestor of modern-day Cambodia. However, the Thais took advantage of one of the empire's moments of weakness to rise up and establish their own empire in 1238 CE, turning the conquerors into the conquered. Thailand became a major imperialist power and dominated many of its neighbors while engaging in a long rivalry with nearby Vietnam.

In the 18th century, though, Thailand started to face imperialism directed towards itself, originating from the UK and France. Although coerced into unequal treaties with the imperial powers, Thailand used its position as a buffer state between French-ruled Indochina and British-ruled India to persuade the two European powers to leave it be. Thailand joined the Entente in World War I to get leverage to amend the colonialist treaties. Then it reformed into a constitutional monarchy (led by a nationalist military regime) in 1932. It intended to stay neutral in World War II, but the Japanese forced the kingdom into becoming a satellite state and an Axis partner.

Since then, Thailand has been a staunch US ally due to their shared interest in fighting communism during the Cold War. Thailand has infamously swung from civilian to military government through a series of coups and horrendous massacres of civilians. The most recent coup was in 2014 when the military ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from power due to her political corruption.[3] Thailand remains under authoritarian military rule, although it's currently facing a serious student protest movement.[4]

The musical The King and I is banned in Thailand (for somewhat understandable reasons).[5] It's considered an insult to the monarchy, and insulting the monarchy carries a minimum prison sentence of 3 years.[6] If you are ever afraid in Thailand, do not whistle a happy tune.

About the name[edit]

Until recently, Europeans knew Thailand by the name "Siam", which comes from a Sanskrit word. In 1938, though, the crazy nationalist Luang Phibunsongkhram took power as an effective dictator and solidified his power by scapegoating the Chinese immigrant population.[7] Part of this anti-Chinese campaign was the name change, demanding that Western nations acknowledge Thailand by the name they chose and implementing a slogan, "Thailand for the Thai."[7]

The name Thailand itself has a double meaning. The dominant ethnic group in Thailand is the Tai, and the word "Thai" means "free" in their language.[8] "Land of the Free" refers to freedom from colonialism, not freedom from the oppression of the Thai government. Thailand's government is still very much an authoritarian regime, regardless of whatever name it slapped on the country.


Phimai, an ancient Khmer city now located in Thailand.

Ancient history[edit]

Thailand has been populated for a long time, and archaeological evidence shows that people started forging bronze instruments around 3000 BCE and farming rice earlier than any other place in Asia.[9] This means that the Bronze Age in Thailand actually significantly predates the classical one people know about from the Middle East.

The modern Thai people, the Tai ethnic group, are descended from rice farmers in the Yunnan region of China who fled the Mongol invasions and the rise of the Yuan dynasty.[10] Unfortunately for them, they moved to a place not much less hostile than where they'd left.

Khmer domination[edit]

The Tai people migrated right into the lands of the Khmer Empire, from which modern Cambodia claims descent. The Khmer were a powerful force; much of that power rested on slavery, which included most of the Khmer population and all of the empire's subject peoples.[11] Slaves built Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the many other great cities and temples the civilization left behind.

At some point, the Khmer recorded having defeated the Tai in combat, rounded them up, and used them as slaves for various construction projects.[12] Some luckier ones became slave soldiers, but they were still considered the Khmer ruler's personal property. Of course, plenty of other people, including most Khmer civilians, faced similar conditions and attitudes, so at least it sucked all around.

Ruins of Sukhothai, the seat of the first Thai imperial state.

Slave societies often aren't the most stable, and the Khmer Empire started to degrade due to internal pressure and high spending on construction projects. The temples might have looked cool, but each one was an ulcer bleeding the empire's funds and manpower. Many of the empire's subject peoples revolted, and some of the Tai further west overthrew their overlords in 1238 and modified a Khmer city into their own capital: Sukhothai.[10]

Thai imperial age[edit]

The Sukhothai was the first group of Tai peoples to take the name Thai, or "free", to distinguish themselves from other Tai who were still under Khmer control.[13] The Sukhothai became a significant regional power, filling their coffers with loot stolen from weaker neighbors and using that cash to invite Chinese scholars and artisans to boost Thai development. The Sukhothai were also the first group of Thai to embrace Buddhism.

The Sukhothai was eventually eclipsed by a Thai state that also broke away from the Khmer, the Ayutthaya Kingdom. The Ayutthaya conquered the Sukhothai to form what was close to the modern Thai borders. They standardized a Thai legal code and cultural standards to keep the kingdom united under a single Thai identity.[14] With this new power base, the Thais turned the tables on the Khmer in 1431, invading Cambodia itself and destroying Angkor, which at the time was a city around the size of modern Berlin.[15] The Khmer never recovered from that defeat, and Cambodia experienced a long and terrible dark age.

Bangkok as drawn by a British merchant in 1822.

The Thai, though, were living large. They had become the most powerful state in Southeast Asia, able to freely push around their neighbors. Their big weakness was decentralization, though, as the Ayutthaya kingdom was a patchwork of feudal holdings which owed loyalty to the king but often chose to undermine him.[14] That Medieval-style structure ensured that the Ayutthaya never had the manpower or resources necessary to conquer their way across the region despite their strength advantage. The scheming nobles also constantly plunged the country into civil war over dumb succession disputes.

The Thai kings gradually developed a divine cult around themselves, portraying themselves as physical gods and hiding behind a veil of taboos and rituals.[16] Their religious significance declined over time, but the general reverence for the monarchy did not. You can see the consequences of that to this day. Despite that, Thai rulers were generally welcoming to foreign traders, which helps explain how they preserved their independence up to the 1800s.[17]Europeans didn't need to start shit since the Thai were quite happy selling and buying stuff.

The empire faltered when it engaged in one too many wars with Burma, as the constant conflicts overtaxed and overextended its capabilities. Wars tend to do that. In 1767, the capital fell to fire and ruin, and the Thai were sent to the geopolitical wilderness for a bit. The country was temporarily split between various warlords.

Dealing with the Europeans[edit]

King Mongkut in European finery, 1865.

Siam got its shit together (literally) when it was militarily reunified by King Taksin the Great in the 1780s.[18] This was just in time since the British started to show up, hoping for more trade goodies. Siam signed a treaty with the UK to establish relations in 1826 after being terrified by the rapid British military victory over Burma just a few years prior.[19]

Under King Mongkut (the inspiration for the king character in The King and I), Siam decided to start opening its economy to Europe under the logic that appeasement was the best way to prevent invasion. In 1855, Mongkut signed a trade agreement with the UK allowing British merchants to conduct business freely, establishing a consulate, and giving Britons extraterritorial rights.[20] He also signed treaties with other imperial powers. The move successfully negated any perceived need for a European invasion, and the resulting influx of foreign goods, knowledge, and technology revolutionized the kingdom.

Although he was portrayed in The King and I as a backward and closed-minded misogynist, the real Mongkut was remarkably forward-thinking. Mongkut went out of his way to learn English and Latin, and he was the first Thai king to provide education for the women of his court and even set his concubines free to live and be remarried.[21] Oh, and he also had hair. Some, anyway.

Of course, Mongkut was firmly a man of his times and kingdom, as shown by the fact that he left the institution of slavery in place and continued to allow noble families to monopolize all political power. Progress is slow.

His son and successor, King Rama V, was even more of a modernizer. In 1873, he abolished the traditional requirement that commoners prostrate themselves before the king, and he then gradually abolished slavery and removed its legality altogether in 1905.[22] Unfortunately, he had to deal with stiff and sometimes violent[23] resistance from conservatives that greatly slowed his reform agenda. Nonetheless, when he died, Siam had something approximating a modern government and even a handful of railroads and public schools.

French gunboat Lutin outside Bangkok, 1893.

However, things got bad again in 1893 since the French started to get a bit hungry for extra land after devouring Indochina. The British, meanwhile, had taken over Burma and were interestedly looking further east. Uh oh. The French launched a small-scale attack in 1893 and then blockaded Bangkok with their superior modern gunships; in exchange for peace, Siam had to hand over control of Laos.[24] A typical little bit of gunboat diplomacy. Then the British pounced, forcing Siam to surrender a chunk of the Malay Peninsula. Luckily for the Thai, both imperial powers realized that they couldn't gobble much more of Siam without running into each other, and Thailand thus served them as a useful buffer state from then on.

Siam's relative compliance didn't stop Europeans from imposing further unfair treaties upon the kingdom, limiting its foreign policy options and forcing it to make economic and trade concessions to Europeans. The hope of overturning some of these agreements convinced Siam's king to declare war on the German Empire in 1917, reasoning that Siam wouldn't have to do anything but that the entry into World War I would win goodwill from Britain and France.[25] Indeed, Siam no longer had to follow the treaties with Germany and Austria, and most of Europe also loosened restrictions. Siam also became a founding member of the League of Nations.

Nationalist dictatorship[edit]

Siamese tanks outside a royal palace during the 1932 coup.

Siam was a lot better off by 1932 than it had been before in terms of foreign policy, having lost most of the unfair treaties by then. Internally, however, Western-educated intellectuals and military officers were increasingly becoming convinced that the historically conservative institution of the monarchy was holding Siam back.[26] They weren't anti-royalist; they simply wanted to restrain the king's power and allow themselves to take the reins to modernize the nation.

In June of 1932, the military abruptly and bloodlessly seized control of the capital city before anyone could react. They forced the king to agree to a constitution by young law professor Pridi Phanomyong.[27] The constitution left the king on the throne, removing many of his political powers and vested them into a unicameral National Assembly. The Assembly was rigged to ensure that the coup members' faction would always be in charge.

After squabbling between the civilian and the military halves of the coup plotters, army officer Luang Plaek Phibunsongkhram became Siam's ruler in 1938. The Phibun regime emphasized nationalism, first by renaming the country "Thailand" and secondly by cracking down on foreigners within Thailand's borders. The easiest targets were Chinese immigrants in the country, and Phibun imposed heavy taxes on them, confiscated many of their businesses, and then offered subsidies to Thais.[28] Phibun also encouraged Western-style dress and mannerisms, although he simultaneously persecuted anyone who adopted the Western religion of Christianity.

Notably, Thailand looked upon Japan as a stellar example of how an East Asian nation could modernize and create its own empire. At that point, Japan had already defeated Russia in a war and participated in operations against the German Empire's Pacific colonies. Phibun personally hoped to follow their example and take on the French and British to retake the Thai land lost in previous decades.[28]

Thailand in WWII[edit]

Royal Thai Army in 1941.
See the main article on this topic: World War II

Thailand initially remained neutral during World War II, although it had drawn close to Japan in an undeclared alliance. After the downfall of France due to Nazi Germany's invasion, Japan and Thailand saw the opportunity to pounce on France's colonial possessions in Asia. Japan invaded Indochina in September 1940, and Thailand followed suit in October. The Royal Thai Army, due to its cooperation with Japan and the country's historical policy of open trade with the West, was quite well-equipped and performed well against the French.[29] Under Japanese pressure, France had to cede the entirety of Indochina, most of it going to Japan, but big chunks of Laos and Cambodia going to Thailand. For the first time in history, Thailand had taken land from a European power.

In 1941, Japan attacked the Western Allies, bringing it into war with the UK, the United States, and the Netherlands. Since Thailand was on the border with British-controlled Burma, Japan hoped to use Thai land as a springboard for a full invasion of the area. However, this presented a problem for the Thai government since they had signed a non-aggression pact with the British in 1940.[30] Japan wasn't about to put up with any shit from a country they viewed as a kouhai, so they launched a brief but brutal invasion of Thailand in December 1941.[31] With the matter being forced, Thailand agreed to become Japan's official junior ally and join the Axis alliance.

Japanese troops in Bangkok, 1945.

From that point forward, Thailand was effectively an occupied nation. Although the government had reluctantly declared war on the United States, the Thai ambassador there made it abundantly clear that the declaration was forced. The US thus chose not to declare war against Thailand, instead giving aid to a growing anti-Japanese resistance army called the Free Thai Movement.[32] The movement snowballed as the Japanese treatment of Thailand grew worse and worse. Most horrific of the Japanese actions in Thailand was the creation of the "death railway", which was meant to bring supplies to support Japanese operations against Burma. The Japanese forced vast numbers of POWs and local Asians into virtual slave conditions to build the railroad, including many Thai civilians.[33] Many succumbed to diseases, which were easily spread given they were forced to live in squalor and without even basic hygiene, and starvation was a real threat due to the physical nature of the work and with food often withheld.[34]

Amid the Japanese occupation, the economy sank due to Allied blockades and attacks. Civilian popular opinion turned against Japan and the Phibun government, culminating in his total ouster from power in 1944.[32] The new government collaborated openly with the Allies and eventually repealed all of its agreements with Japan.

Cold War conundrums[edit]

Thai King Bhumibol addresses the US Congress, 1960.
See the main article on this topic: Cold War

Instability and anticommunism[edit]

Although the US never had any beef with Thailand despite the war, the other Allies weren't so understanding. Peace with them was not cheap. The UK demanded war reparations in two years of rice shipments. France regained its lost territory, and the Soviet Union insisted on repealing Thai anti-communist legislation.[35] The eventual success of the peace negotiations in 1946 was overshadowed, though, by the mysterious gunshot death of Thailand's 20-year-old king.[36] The bullet had come from the king's own gun, but the weapon was in his non-dominant hand. The sudden loss of a monarch shook the new Thai government, resulting in a wave of resignations and humiliations.

The political upheaval caused by the king's death opened the door for a new military coup in 1947, sweeping in the old Phibun cadre and establishing a new dictatorship. The new regime quickly revived the hatred of the Chinese they had expressed in the years before the war, and after the victory of Mao Zedong in the Chinese Civil War, that hate morphed into a rabid brand of anticommunism.[37] As a result, Thailand immediately became best buds with the West, refusing to acknowledge the PRC before the UN, supporting the Korean War effort, and supporting the French in fighting rebels in Vietnam. The US considered Thailand to be its most loyal friend in Southeast Asia.

In 1951, the military regime used the pretense of an alleged Chinese communist plot to suspend democracy, reinstate the Phibun dictatorship, and stuff the parliament with military officers.[38] Phibun cracked down on the Chinese, arresting them in droves, shutting down their businesses, and banning their gatherings.[38] In 1954, the military dictatorship formalized the alliance with the US by joining the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and offering to let the US use Thai military bases.

To shore up his popular support, Phibun promised elections in 1957 and then tampered with the results to ensure his victory.[39] That destroyed his popularity and even tanked his support from the military. The military launched another coup to replace him with Sarit Thanarat later that year. Sarit promoted "Nation-Religion-King" as his regime's motto, and he encouraged reverence for the king to legitimize his own rule.[40] Sarit also cozied up even more to the US in the Vietnam War and the major communist uprisings in Cambodia and Laos.

Communist insurgency[edit]

Gurrillas of the Thai Communist Party.

With communist revolts exploding across Southeast Asia, plus the Red giant of China looming nearby, it was inevitable that Thailand would have some commie problems of their own. Ultimately, it was less a general peasant revolt and more the natural consequence of decades of anti-Chinese racism that sparked the uprising. The CIA noted at the time that basically the entire leadership of the Thai Communist Party was ethnic Chinese, and most of the movement's support came from abroad.[41] It didn't help that the Bangkok government tended to crack down even harder on minorities, even when minority populations weren't involved in communism, which only helped strengthen the broader red insurgency.[42]

The low-intensity war remained a thorn in the government's side for decades, although only a few hundred people died each year.[43] Interestingly enough, one of the main factors mitigating the conflict was King Bhumibol. He became immensely popular among the poor for publicly championing the need for welfare programs and rural infrastructure development.[44] Coupled with the cultural reverence for the king, this greatly appeased the population that would normally be most susceptible to communist propaganda.

The communist movement was fatally crippled when its two main benefactors, Vietnam and China, had their falling out. The movement fizzled out when the government did the smart thing and offered them amnesty in exchange for peace.[44]

As a result of their anti-communist stance, though, they had quite a dilemma when the Khmer Rouge next door got overthrown. While the Thai had no great love for them, they decided they disliked the Vietnamese communists who liberated them less. Therefore, they decided to only recognize the Khmer Rouge even as they held on to ever-smaller parts of northeastern Cambodia. For the next 20 years after their overthrow, they refused to allow any aid to Cambodia not directed to them. As a result, Cambodia suffered under occupation and another still-ongoing dictatorship. Meanwhile, Pol Pot and his buddies gorged themselves on delicacies, Thai beer, and soft drinks (seriously, they managed to send them ice in the middle of a jungle!).[45]

Protests and crackdowns[edit]

Thai police and right-wing militias prepare to massacre students, 1976.
It’s something the government doesn’t want them to talk about, but I think also a reluctance because the event is hard to reconcile with how Thais see themselves. They are famous for being a gentle and harmonious society and yet right here in the middle of their history is an event that is characterized by savagery and violence, right in the middle of downtown Bangkok.
—David Tucker, documentary on the 1976 massacre.[46]

Unfortunately, that one good thing was an aberration in a general government trend towards increasing oppression. In 1973, students and workers rallied in the streets to demand a more democratic constitution and genuine parliamentary elections. Thai troops responded by shooting into the crowd with live ammunition, killing dozens of people, and then occupying the Bangkok university campus.[47] It was so bad that the Thai king intervened in politics for the first time since 1932 by forcing out the old dictator and calling for new elections.

This period of democracy was brief. Right-wing militias and the Thai military quickly reasserted their dominance by terrorizing and massacring students at the Bangkok university again in 1976. They stormed the university, forced the students to strip and gather in the athletics fields, and finally, the militias swept through to lynch, beat, and burn people to death.[46] Thongchai Winichakul, a former student activist, bitterly calls the massacre "a culmination of years of state-sponsored radical propaganda, vandalism and assassination plots."[48]

As Thailand broke into street wars between conservatives and leftists, the government saw another coup in 1978 that installed a more moderate government. This evolved into a power-sharing arrangement between an elected parliament and the military that evolved into almost democracy by 1992.[49] Unfortunately, the military struck back. They seized control of the government again. When students protested, the military massacred dozens, arrested thousands, and tortured many people.[50] Doesn't that sound depressingly familiar.

Modern Thailand[edit]

Thai soldiers in Chiang Mai during the 2014 coup.

The country's most recent era began when billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra was elected prime minister in 2001; he was the first elected leader to complete a term in office and was reelected in 2005.[51] His rule wasn't so great, though, as he unleashed a "war on drugs" that encouraged extrajudicial killings and caused at least 2,800 deaths.[52]

Shortly after Thaksin's reelection, he was deposed by a military coup after military officials accused him of corruption.[53] Thaksin fled the country, but in 2008 he was found guilty in absentia of various corruption allegations.[54]

His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, won the next round of free elections in 2011. She immediately encountered protests and opposition over her proposal to grant amnesty to her brother.[55] The military launched a coup against her in 2014, abolishing democracy and giving itself dictatorial powers. Politically, that's about where things stand now, as the military junta's leader still seems insistent on remaining in power.

Yingluck fled the country before she could go on trial, just like her brother, and she is rumored to be in London. In a rather bizarre move, Serbia, of all places, just randomly granted her citizenship without an explanation.[56] That means she can travel to most places in Europe without a visa. So, uh, nice consolation prize, we guess?

Government and politics[edit]

King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his official concubine.


In the past, there have been statements fooling us by saying that people born into the royal family are incarnations of gods or angels. With all due respect, please ask yourselves, are you sure that angels or gods have this kind of personality?
—Student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul on Thailand's playboy king.[57]

Thailand is theoretically a constitutional monarchy, but the monarch enjoys some powers and privileges you wouldn't see in a genuinely democratic state. The Thai king is the head of the armed forces, exercises broad powers of royal assent to legislation, and is required to be Buddhist.[58] Women are also legally barred from taking the throne.

Bhumibol Adulyadej, the late king of jazz.

Current ruler King Maha Vajiralongkorn, son of former ruler Bhumibol Adulyadej, has expanded his powers even further in recent years, probably as a means of consolidating his authority after his sudden 2016 accession to the throne after the death of his fare more popular father. The new king took personal control of multiple army units, moved less loyal army units out of the capital, and acquired great wealth by assuming control of various formerly-private companies.[59] This fuels speculation that the king intends to launch a coup to reestablish the absolute monarchy. However, the king is pretty unpopular due to his scandal-ridden past, such as a photograph of him wearing a crop top and a fake tattoo arm and granting his pet poodle a top-level military rank and an extravagant state-funded funeral ceremony.[60] The king's late poodle also has his own Wikipedia pageWikipedia.

He also revived the "royal consort" title to take a concubine, famously hot military officer Maj. Gen. Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, and then posting a bunch of lewd photos of her on the royal household website.[61] A few months later, the king arbitrarily stripped her of her titles as a power move.[62] She was eventually reinstated, although, in 2020, another scandal involving her erupted when hackers leaked some 1,400 nude photos of her that she had been sexting to the king.[63]

This wasn't the first time the king let his penis do the thinking. Just after he took the throne, he abruptly married his official military bodyguard, his fourth wife, after he was married and divorced three times before.[64] It's good to be the king.

The new king's unpopularity has sparked a genuine protest movement against him, demanding the curbing of his powers, although the protests are bound to meet violent resistance from conservatives.[57] This is historical since Thai culture has, for centuries, emphasized the divinity and unquestionable authority of the king. It seems the new guy's antics have depleted that aura of infallibility.

His predecessor, King Bhumibol, was much more popular, having been an activist for the rights of the poor[44] and a well-known jazz player.[65] His popularity declined significantly when he openly supported the 2006 and 2014 military coups.

Thai military[edit]

US general Mark Dempsey meets with Dictator Prayut Chan-o-cha and members of the Thai junta.

Junta dictatorship[edit]

The Thai military is notable for how many times they've overthrown the government in both democratic and dictatorial times. Thailand has seen more coups in its history than any other country, leading to what outsiders call a "coup culture".[66] Thailand is also uniquely susceptible to coups due to its governmental system, as it's authoritarian enough to allow for coups but not authoritarian enough to prevent them.

The most recent coup was in 2014, ousting elected prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The current military regime, led by Prayut Chan-o-cha, has proven to be one of the most oppressive in history. The regime has enforced unending censorship and arrested hundreds of student activists for sedition, internet activism, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy).[67] Criticism of the military regime is illegal, and public gatherings of more than five people are strictly forbidden.

Prayut has repeatedly made and then broken promises about election dates and returning to civilian rule.[67] His most recent promise was to hold elections in February 2019, but he remains in charge. That's because the elections happened, but they were rather blatantly rigged as the Election Commission was handpicked by the military junta.[68] Prayut is now masquerading as an elected leader, but his policies and oppression have remained the same.

Conscription and brutality[edit]

The Thai military is ruthless and relies on heavy conscription to maintain its manpower, with some 100,000 people drafted yearly.[69] Conscripts are treated horrifically, subjected to harsh beatings, ritual humiliation, and even sexual abuse.[70]

The military doesn't treat civilians any better. They're responsible for much of Thailand's law enforcement, especially combating drugs. When pursuing drug charges, the military often uses torture to extract confessions, sometimes killing the suspect.[71] The military has also conducted massacres against peaceful protesters.[72]

Human rights[edit]

Banner warns Thais not to like or share "non-mainstream" views on social media, or risk ending up in prison.

The current military regime under Prayut Chan-o-cha has completely disregarded political and civil rights.

Free speech and assembly[edit]

The government heavily censors Thai media by encouraging the firing of outspoken journalists, taking outlets off the air for prolonged periods, and arresting people.[73] The junta arrested hundreds of people throughout 2019 for peacefully calling for the resumption of democracy.

In 2016, the junta forced through the Computer-Related Crime Act (CCA), which gives the military regime broad powers to restrict free speech, enforce surveillance and censorship, and retaliate against activists.[74] People are prosecuted for signing petitions and voicing their opinion online.

In late 2019, the military regime charged six opposition politicians with sedition just for proposing possible devolution of some powers to the nation's violence-hit south.[75] If found guilty, they face up to seven years in prison.

Lèse Majesté[edit]

Thailand is infamous for its restrictive Lèse Majesté legislation, which criminalizes criticism of the monarchy. The law has been on the books since olden times when Thailand was Siam, but it was only occasionally used before the 2014 military coup.[76] But between 2014 and early 2018, at least 98 lese majeste charges were filed, as the military has used the law as a bludgeon to silence its critics.[76] Conservative and nationalistic Thais don't tend to look kindly upon enemies of the monarchy, so the law is an easy way to discredit opponents.

After receiving international bad press for its heavy-handed use of the law, the military has since moved on to other tools to punish critics of itself or the monarchy, such as charging them with more neutral crimes like sedition, cybercrime, illegal assembly, and criminal association.[73]

Thailand's government reserves the right to arrest even foreigners for this bullshit. Foreigners have been charged for various "crimes" like purposely tearing Thai bank notes as each carries the king's image, wearing black on the king's birthday, writing a sarcastic Internet post about the king's dog, and writing "the King never smiles" on the internet.[77] Besides The King and I, the Murray Head song One Night in BangkokWikipedia is mega-banned from the country; unlike The King and I, it seems this one was a little too accurate a description of real life for the royal family to tolerate.[78] Apparently, the Thai government has quite a thin skin.

Libel and defamation laws[edit]

Thailand's legal code inflicts harsh punishments on people found guilty of libel or defamation. This has been true since 1957, although in 1992, the government hiked the penalties up to a potential two years in prison.[79] Most frequently targeted are journalists and opposition politicians. The fines for these verbal offenses are higher than the fine for many forms of physical violence.

One of the biggest problems with the Thailand legal code is that truthfulness is not considered a valid defense against defamation or libel claims; the defendant must also prove that the statement was "of benefit to the public".[80] This has given the Thai regime a free hand to use the laws to harass human rights activists, even though the activists are entirely in the right, because the regime doesn't consider the knowledge of their crimes beneficial to the public.[81]

In 2016, Thai courts found journalist Suchanee Cloitre guilty of defamation when she commented on a case in which a Thai firm forced migrant workers to work 20 hours a day without a break for 40 consecutive days; apparently, "slave labor" wasn't a nice enough way to describe it.[82] And, of course, there's the absurd case from 2020 where an American tourist might be sent to jail for posting negative reviews of a resort.[83]

Torture and mistreatment[edit]

Thai soldiers respond to political protests.

The military has broad powers to arrest and interrogate people arbitrarily. Since the 2014 coup, the Thai military regime has expanded its use of torture against suspects in full violation of international agreements Thailand had previously signed. Victims reported to Amnesty International in 2016 that methods included beatings, suffocation by plastic bags, strangling by hand or rope, waterboarding, electric shocks of the genitals, and other forms of humiliation.[84] People frequently targeted for arbitrary detention and abuse include suspected drug users, ethnic minorities, and migrants.

Oh, by the way, it's been all but totally confirmed that the CIA used Thailand to host at least one of its black site torture facilities during the George W. Bush administration, which the Thai government had no problems with so long as they were kept informed of who was being held there.[85] Torturers gotta hang together, y'know?

Sex trafficking and slavery[edit]

Prostitution is infamously common in Thailand. That wouldn't be a problem, but Thailand is also a global hub for human sex trafficking, often involving children. Ethnic minorities and migrants are particularly vulnerable to this criminal activity. The US State Department recently ranked Thailand in one of the worst categories for legal crime prevention, alongside North Korea, Syria, and the Central African Republic.[86]

Thailand also has a distressingly large modern-day slave trade, which fuels a big chunk of Thailand's multi-billion-dollar seafood industry.[87][88]

Despite increasing international scrutiny, the problem only gets worse. The police have proven to be extraordinarily incompetent at rooting out the problem, and they're often ordered to harass simple migrants to artificially inflate the numbers of people freed.[89] As a result, many trafficking cases are dismissed by Thai courts.


External links[edit]


  1. US man faces jail in Thailand over hotel review. BBC News.
  2. See the Wikipedia article on Religion in Thailand.
  3. See the Wikipedia article on 2014 Thai coup d'état.
  4. Thailand protests: everything you need to know. The Guardian.
  5. Thailand’s Banned ‘King’. The New York Review of Books.
  6. Lese-majeste explained: How Thailand forbids insult of its royalty. BBC News.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Siam Becomes Thailand. History Today.
  8. Land of the Free: How Thailand Got Its Name. The Culture Trip.
  9. Thailand: Early History. Country Studies.
  10. 10.0 10.1 The Tai People: Origins and Migrations. Country Studies.
  11. Angkorian Period. Country Studies.
  12. Cœdès, George (1968). Walter F. Vella (ed.). The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Trans. Susan Brown Cowing. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1. 190–191
  13. Sukhothai. Country Studies.
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  22. Chulalongkorn's Reforms. Country Studies.
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  24. The Crisis of 1893. Country Studies.
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  26. Promoters Revolution. Britannica.
  27. Thailand: 1932 Coup. Country Studies.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Phibun and the Nationalist Regime. Country Studies.
  29. See the Wikipedia article on Franco-Thai War.
  30. See the Wikipedia article on Anglo-Thai Non-Aggression Pact.
  31. See the Wikipedia article on Japanese invasion of Thailand.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Thailand: World War II. Country Studies.
  33. See the Wikipedia article on Burma Railway.
  34. The Horrific Story of Thailand's Death Railway. The Culture Trip.
  35. Pridi and the Civilian Regime, 1944-47. Country Studies.
  36. 1955: Three for the death of King Ananda of Thailand. Executed Today.
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  38. 38.0 38.1 Thailand: November 1951 Coup. Country Studies.
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  40. Sarit's Return. Country Studies.
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  42. Thai Politics and Foreign Policy, 1963-71. Country Studies.
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  46. 46.0 46.1 Thailand 1976 Massacre Anniversary: Lynching photo both dark mark and blind spot for Thais. Indian Express.
  47. Thailand: End of Thanom Regime. Country Studies.
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  51. See the Wikipedia article on Thaksin Shinawatra.
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  54. Former Thai PM Thaksin found guilty of corruption. The Guardian.
  55. Protests as Thailand senators debate amnesty bill. The Guardian.
  56. Yingluck gets Serbian citizenship. Bangkok Post.
  57. 57.0 57.1 In defiance of law, protesters in Thailand demand curbs on king’s powers. LA Times.
  58. See the Wikipedia article on Government of Thailand § The monarchy.
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  60. Crop-tops, mistresses and flying poodles: Meet the next King of Thailand. The Independent.
  61. The Thai Palace Posted Photos of the King’s Consort. Then the Website Went Down. New York Times.
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  63. Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi: Over 1,400 nude photos of Thai king's mistress leaked by 'hackers' amid rivalry with queen.
  64. Thai king Vajiralongkorn marries 'bodyguard' making her queen. BBC News.
  65. Thailand’s late king also artist, jazz musician, inventor. Associated Press.
  66. Why does Thailand have so many coups?. NBC News.
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  68. Thailand election results delayed as allegations of cheating grow. ABC australia
  69. Red or black? Experiencing Thailand’s military draft. Al Jazeera.
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  71. Thailand: Investigate Army Torture, Murder in Drug Case. Human Rights Watch.
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  74. Thailand: Cyber Crime Act Tightens Internet Control. Human Rights Watch.
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  76. 76.0 76.1 Explainer: Thailand's lese majeste law. Reuters.
  77. Lèse Majesté: Watching what you say (and type) abroad. Overseas Security Advisory Council.
  78. Ironically, almost no one would remember the song were it not for the Thai government bitching about it; in every other regard it's a bog-standard 80s pop song that would've otherwise remained thoroughly confined to the decade in which it was released
  79. Impact of Defamation Law on Freedom of Expression in Thailand.
  80. Defamation Laws in Thailand. Kelly Warner Law.
  81. Thailand: ICJ condemns the use of criminal defamation law to harass Angkhana Neelapaijit. International Commission of Jurists.
  82. Criminal libel laws go too far. Bangkok Post.
  83. American Could Face Prison in Thailand After Posting Negative Reviews of a Resort. New York Times.
  85. CIA director Gina Haspel's Thailand torture ties. BBC News.
  86. Tackling Thailand's human trafficking problem. CNN.
  87. Thailand hit by record number of human trafficking cases. The Guardian.
  88. 'Such brutality': tricked into slavery in the Thai fishing industry. The Guardian.
  89. Exclusive: Thailand police under scrutiny as record number of trafficking cases dismissed. Reuters.