Posing with a New Zealand passport on his Facebook page did not do Ekaphop Luera any favours. It smacked of taunting the Thai authorities who are now urging New Zealand to revoke that document. But this show of youthful indiscretion should have no relevance in any decision on his future in this country. That should be judged purely and simply on the validity of his refugee status. The bare bones suggest his case is a compelling one.

Mr Ekaphop was granted that status by the United Nations refugee agency last year and fled here via Cambodia. He said that he was escaping persecution in Thailand, where he is wanted under lese majeste charges. These forbid the threatening or insulting of Thailand's royal family, a crime punishable by up to 15 years' jail. Mr Ekaphop is said to have made the comments in 2013 when, as an affiliate of the Red Shirts political protest group, he spoke in support of the government of the day. He left Thailand when a military junta overthrew that administration, and was resettled under New Zealand's quota refugee system.

Criticism of any royal family is, of course, part and parcel of the freedom of expression in this country. Forbidding it seems like something out of the Middle Ages. Indeed, to suggest that royalty should be immune from critical remarks would be to trample on a principle that is fundamental to any fully fledged democracy. Yet Thailand's military junta has increased the prosecution of lese majeste subjects. Doubtless, it would claim this is a response to most Thais' ongoing reverence for the royal family. In large part, however, it points to the debt that flowed from royal endorsement.

Mr Ekaphop is, in fact, a victim of the ongoing friction of a sharply divided nation. This will not end until democracy takes root. At the moment, that is far from the case. The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which Mr Ekaphop and the Red Shirts supported, was democratically elected. It drew its support mostly from poor and rural voters, who had benefited from her Pheu Thai Party's policies, including improved healthcare and education and cheap loans.

Advertisement

But her government, like others elected by popular vote before it, was never accepted by Thailand's traditional elite and the metropolitan middle classes. Their aim has been to create so much instability that the army saw no option but to intervene, not least in the interests of the country's tourism industry. A measure of their success has been the dozen or so coups mounted by the military since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. The most recent intervention, in May last year, followed the wrecking of planned parliamentary elections.

Thailand says that Mr Ekaphop is "exploiting his status granted by the New Zealand Government to conduct political activities which have reverse impact on Thailand's security". This, it says, is an obstacle to the good relationship between the two countries. New Zealand should buy none of this. It should be pressing for a democratically elected government in Thailand. As is Mr Ekaphop.