Lèse majesté (Law French, from the Latin laesa maiestas, "injured majesty"; in English, also lese majesty or leze majesty) is the crime of violating majesty, an offense against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state.
This behavior was first classified as a criminal offense against the dignity of the Roman republic in Ancient Rome. In time, as the Emperor became identified with the Roman state (the empire never formally became a monarchy), it was essentially applied to offenses against his person. Though legally the princeps civitatis (his official title, roughly 'first citizen') could never become a sovereign, as the republic was never abolished, emperors were to be deified as divus, first posthumously but ultimately while reigning, and thus enjoyed the legal protection provided for the divinities of the state cult; by the time it was exchanged for Christianity, the monarchical tradition in all but name was well established.
Narrower conceptions of offenses against Majesty as offences against the crown predominated in the European kingdoms that emerged in the early medieval period. In feudal Europe, various real crimes were classified as lèse majesté even though not intentionally directed against the crown, such as counterfeiting because coins bear the monarch's effigy and/or coat of arms.
However, since the disappearance of absolute monarchy, this is viewed as less of a crime, although similar, more malicious acts, could be considered treason. By analogy, as modern times saw republics emerging as great powers, a similar crime may be constituted, though not under this name, by any offence against the highest representatives of any state.
In Germany, Switzerland and Poland it is illegal to insult foreign heads of state publicly. On 5 January 2005, Jerzy Urban was sentenced by Poland to a fine of 20,000 złoty (about 5000 EUR or 6,200 USD) for having insulted Pope John Paul II, a visiting head of state. Also, on January 26 – January 27, 2005, 28 human rights activists were temporarily detained by the Polish authorities for allegedly insulting Vladimir Putin, a visiting head of state. The activists were released after about 30 hours and only one was actually charged with insulting a foreign head of state. In October 2006, a Polish man was arrested in Warsaw after expressing his dissatisfaction with the leadership of Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński by passing gas loudly.
In Denmark the monarch is protected by the usual libel paragraph (§ 267 of the penal code which allows for up to four months of imprisonment), but § 115 allows for doubling of the usual punishment when the regent is target of the libel. When a queen consort, queen dowager or the crown prince is the target, the punishment may be increased by 50 %. There are no records of the § 115 having ever been used.
In October 2007 a 47-year-old man was fined €400 for, amongst other things, lèse majesté in The Netherlands when he called Queen Beatrix a "whore" and described several sexual acts he would like to perform on her to a police officer.
The Spanish satirical magazine El Jueves was fined for violation of Spain's lèse majesté laws after publishing an issue with a caricature of the Prince of Asturias and his wife engaging in sexual intercourse on the cover in 2007.
Moroccans are routinely prosecuted for statements deemed offensive to the King. The penal code states that the minimum sentence for a statement made in private (i.e: not broadcast) is imprisonment for 1 year. For a public offense to the King, the minimum sentence is 3 years. In both cases, the maximum is 5 years.
Recently, the case of Yassine Belassal The Fouad Mourtada Affair, and Nasser Ahmed (a 95 year-old who died in jail after being convicted of lèse majesté), revived the debate on these laws and their applications.
Thailand's Criminal Code has carried a prohibition against lèse majesté since 1908. In 1932, when Thailand's monarchy ceased to be absolute and a constitution was adopted, it too included language prohibiting lèse majesté. The 2007 Constitution of Thailand, and all 17 versions since 1932, contain the clause, "The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action." Thai Criminal Code elaborates in Article 112: "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years." Missing from the Code, however, is a definition of what actions constitute "defamation" or "insult". It is important to note that neither the King nor any member of the Royal Family has ever personally filed any charges under this law. In fact, during his birthday speech in 2005, King Bhumibol Adulyadej encouraged criticism: "Actually, I must also be criticized. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know." He later added, "But the King can do wrong."
The Constitution does not provide the legal right for the royal family to defend themselves; accordingly they cannot file grievances on their own behalf. Instead, the responsibility has been granted to the state and to the public. Cases are often filed by state authorities or by individuals, and anyone may take action against anyone else. In one notable incident during the 2005–2006 political crisis, deposed Premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his political opponent Sondhi Limthongkul filed charges of lèse majesté against each other. Thaksin's alleged lèse majesté was one of the stated reasons for the Thai military's 2006 coup.
Frenchman Lech Tomasz Kisielewicz allegedly committed lèse majesté in 1995 by making a derogatory remark about a Thai princess while on board a Thai Airways flight. Although in international airspace at the time, he was taken into custody upon landing in Bangkok and charged with offending the monarchy. He was detained for two weeks, released on bail, and acquitted after writing a letter of apology to the King.
In March 2007, Swiss national Oliver Jufer was convicted of lèse majesté and sentenced to 10 years in jail for spray-painting graffiti on several portraits of the king while drunk in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Jufer was pardoned by the king on 12 April 2007.
In March 2008, Police Colonel Watanasak Mungkijakarndee filed a case against Jakrapob Penkhair for comments made in an FCCT event in August 2007. In 2008 BBC south-east Asia correspondent and FCCT vice-president Jonathan Head was accused of lèse majesté 3 times by Watanasak. In the most recent case Watanasak filed new charges highlighting a conspiracy connecting Thaksin Shinawatra, Jakrapob Penkhair and Jonathan Head to Veera Musikapong at the FCCT. In February 2010 and in March 2010 respectively, Akbar Khan and Pol. Lt. Col. Wattanasak were revealed to have filed criminal defamation charges against Frank G Anderson for material in a 2008 online posting related to lese majeste</ref>discussions, which criticized Khan and Wattanasak for their actions.
In September 2008, Harry Nicolaides from Melbourne, Australia, was arrested at Bangkok's international airport and charged with lèse majesté, for an offending passage in his self published book Verisimilitude. Subsequently, in January 2009, after pleading guilty, he was sentenced to three years in jail. On February 21, 2009, he was pardoned by the king and released.
Brunei is another country which still prosecutes lèse majesté. There is also a current diplomatic incident between Australia and Kuwait over an Australian woman being held for allegedly insulting the Emir of Kuwait during a fracas with Kuwaiti Immigration authorities.
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