Last Updated 15 August 2017

After the Constitutional Court ruled the 2014 general elections invalid, and the carteaker Prime Minister and others to leave office, the army seized power in a military coup. In August 2014 the leader of the coup General Prayuth Chan-ocha was sworn in as Prime Minister. Martial law technically ended on 1 April 2015, but the military junta of the “National Council for Peace and Order” remains in power, the constitution at least partially suspended.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Despite partial suspension of the constitution under the military junta, the Consitutional Court remains in place. To the extent that it can still be considered authoritiative, the constitution protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and association. However, the state has long favoured Buddhism in several ways, and there is strict enforcement of punitive laws against criticism of the monarchy. Under the military junta since 2014 numerous freedoms including access to the internet and free expression have further deteriorated.

There is no official state religion; however, Theravada Buddhism receives significant government support, and the 2007 constitution retains the requirement that the monarch be Buddhist. The constitution specifies the state shall “patronize and protect Buddhism as the religion observed by most Thais for a long period of time, as well as other religions, and shall also promote a good understanding and harmony among the followers of all religions as well as encourage the application of religious principles to create virtue and develop the quality of life.”

The 2007 constitution protects religious liberty in Section 37 and states that unjust discrimination against a person on the grounds of differences in “religious belief” shall not be permitted (Constitution Section 30).

The 2007 constitution required that the government “patronize and protect Buddhism and other religions.” In accordance with this requirement, the government subsidized activities of all five primary religious communities. The government allocated 4.3 billion baht (approximately $143 million) for fiscal year 2012 to support the National Buddhism Bureau, an independent state agency. The bureau oversees the Buddhist clergy and approves the curriculums of Buddhist teachings for all Buddhist temples and educational institutions. In addition, the bureau sponsored educational and public relations materials on Buddhism as it relates to daily life. During the year the government budgeted 365 million baht ($12.2 million) for the Religious Affairs Department (RAD) of the Ministry of Culture, providing support for the officially recognized religious groups for Buddhism, Islam, Christian, Hindu and Sikh organizations.

Education and children’s rights

The law requires religious education at both the primary and secondary levels. In 2003 the Ministry of Education introduced a course called “Social, Religion, and Culture Studies,” which students in each grade study for one to two hours each week. The course contains information about all of the recognized religious groups in the country.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values


The 2007 constitution generally provides for freedom of speech; however, laws prohibiting speech likely to insult Buddhism and other religions remain in place. The 1962 Sangha Act (amended in 1992) specifically prohibits the defamation or insult of Buddhism and the Buddhist clergy. Violators of the law can face up to one year’s imprisonment or fines of up to 20,000 baht (approximately $667). The 1956 penal code’s sections 206 to 208 (last amended in 1976) prohibit the insult or disturbance of religious places or services of all officially recognized religious groups. Penalties range from imprisonment of one to seven years or a fine of 2,000 to 14,000 baht ($67 to $467).

Insulting the monarchy

In recent years, the government has blocked many websites for allegedly insulting the monarchy under lese-majeste laws. Due to the secrecy surrounding most such cases, it is unclear exactly how many charges of insulting the monarch go to trial but previous estimates suggest that there are several hundred cases a year. In some cases, people accused by personal enemies of defaming the king in private conversation, have been held without bail for extended periods—almost a year in one case in 2013—before their case was heard in court. Defendants can face decades in prison for multiple counts.

Although the laws prohibit defamation of the monarchy generally, the authorities have frequently used them to target critics of the junta government.

For example, in August 2017, a law student and activist, Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, was sentenced to two and a half years for sharing on Facebook a critical but otherwise innocuous BBC profile of the new king. While thousands of other users had seen and shared the same article, Jatupat Boonpattaraksa was also a prominent critic of the government. The BBC insisted that “BBC Thai was established to bring impartial independent and accurate news to a country where the media faces restrictions and we are confident that this article adheres to the BBC’s editorial principles”.

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