Justice

You Can Be Jailed for Insulting the Government in These Countries

December 23rd 2015

By:
Kyle Jaeger

A 27-year-old man in Thailand could face up to 37 years in prison after allegedly "liking" a Facebook post that insulted the dog of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He was arrested earlier this month and charged with violating the lese majeste, a 1908 Thai law that prohibits people from offending the ruling sovereign.

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Though this may seems like an antiquated law, there are similar versions still in effect in countries around the world. From Thailand to Norway, governments continue to crack down on critics, punishing those who insult or threaten leaders.

Here's a video from TestTube that breaks down the concept of "illegal offense."

The laws harken back to an age when kings were thought to be divinely appointed and offending the crown was considered tantamount to blasphemy. But even as monarchies take on a more symbolic role in governance—as is the case in the United Kingdom, which operates under a constitutional monarchy—the laws stand in a number of countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

Thailand, Malaysia, Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Lebanon, Poland, Italy, Norway, Denmark, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and South Africa each uphold anti-government speech laws to different extents, TestTube reports.

king

In several recent cases, those accused of insulting the country's leadership on social media have been imprisoned. In 2013, for example, a 32-year-old woman in Malaysia was arrested after reportedly insulting King Yang di-Pertuan Agong—again, on Facebook. And a student in Morocco was sentenced to three years behind bars for "violating the sacred values" of the kingdom; someone had recorded him criticizing the Moroccan king and uploaded it to YouTube.

This forms part of a theme where unsuspecting people are convicted after being caught violating censorship laws that seem almost unbelievable to those in countries that protect freedom of speech. Imagine if Americans could be jailed for writing insulting things about President Barack Obama on Facebook. Of course, such a policy would go against the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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"Really, even though monarchies have long lost their infallibility, national pride is taken very seriously in many countries," TestTube explains. "Being legally forced to treat a head of state with dignity and respect is a remnant of a somewhat religious and outdated authoritarian system. But while we don't have god-kings anymore, there are still many countries looking for reasons to crack down on dissent."