STORIES on our monarchy are gaining traction, on and offline. But some of the narratives are disturbingly offensive.
To curb this calumny, some are suggesting that Malaysia follow the lead of Thailand’s lese majeste — injured majesty — laws. In Thailand, it can carry a sentence up to 15 years in prison. If that is not enough, offenders are ordered to kneel and grovel in public.
The law in question — Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code — states anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” will be punished with up to 15 years in prison. It has been in the code since it was introduced in 1908.
This is not a route for us.
There are at least two reasons for not going down this road.
One, it is not a favoured road in this age and time. Lese majeste laws have gone off the statute books of many countries with the passage of time.
In England, for example, sedition could cost the Englishmen his life in Tudor England, but by the 18th century, the monarchy became fair game.
Also, Thailand has come under criticism by no less than the august United Nations.
On June 19 last year, the BBC quoted the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as saying that it was deeply troubled by the high rate of prosecutions, and the disproportionate sentences for the offence.
The broadcasting corporation also reported a court in Bangkok handing out a 60-year sentence on a 48-year-old tour guide operator, Pongsak Sriboonpheng, 10 years for each of the Facebook posts critical of the monarchy that he was charged with writing. This was halved to 30 years when he pleaded guilty.
Facebook postings do go wrong at times but what we do not want is vengeful revenge. There are already laws to take care of such insolent behaviour against the monarch or the rulers.
Royal defamation doesn’t need another law. Constitutional law expert Professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi of Universiti Malaya says calls for lese majeste laws to be passed are not only a knee-jerk reaction but also naive.
He is of the view that there are enough laws in our statute books to tackle evil-speak of such nature. The Penal Code, for example, has provisions that can be used to rein in offenders who insult the royals: sections 121(B),121(I), 499 and 501.
The Sedition Act 1948, too, has ample provisions. These and other laws in Malaysia are sufficient to prevent injury to their majesties.
Those who seek to further fortify against such vilification must find another way out. That way is through education.
For far too long we have focused on teaching the mind at the expense of the heart.
Prosocial behaviour can only come about if the heart is taught to love.
After all, the seat of compassion or love for others is the heart.