Activists slam Thai artist’s conviction for insulting king with duck cartoons

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Activists slam Thai artist’s conviction for insulting king with duck cartoons Pro-democracy activists display rubber ducks as they protect themselves from being hit by jets from water cannons, Dec. 2, 2020.
Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Rights activists on Wednesday blasted the latest prison term for a Thai citizen accused of insulting the king, in this case through a satirical image of a yellow duck wearing a crop top.

Meanwhile, two young women charged under Lèse-Majesté, the strict royal defamation law, entered the 50th day of a hunger strike on Wednesday.

Narathorn Chotmankongsin, 26, was found guilty on Tuesday of selling calendars featuring yellow duck cartoons, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

“The September calendar page featured a yellow duck cartoon wearing a crop-top outfit and sunglasses, which the prosecutors believed referred to the king because there was a photo of him” earlier wearing a similar outfit, the group said in a statement.

This page also featured an inscription – “Democracy with the king as the head of state.”

The court sentenced Narathorn to three years in jail under Lèse-Majesté.

“But since he cooperated in the trial, the term is reduced to two years,” the court said.

Narathorn was released on 280,000 baht (U.S. $7,976) bail and has appealed the case, according to the lawyers.  

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia director Elaine Pearson said on Wednesday that Thai authorities should permit peaceful expression of all viewpoints, including on the monarchy.

“This case sends a message to all Thais, and to the rest of the world, that Thailand is moving further away from – not closer to – becoming a rights-respecting democracy,” she said in a statement the HRW website.

A senior Thai HRW researcher voiced similar concerns.

“Narathorn’s sentence reflects officials’ will to not let anyone mock the monarchy, causing a climate of fear in Thai society that impacts freedom of expression and democratic process,” researcher Sunai Phasuk told BenarNews.

Youth-led anti-government protests which started in July 2020 have called for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to resign, the monarchy to be reformed and the constitution to be rewritten.

In November 2020, Prayuth announced that all laws would be enforced against the protesters, including Lèse-Majesté. Since then, more than 200 people have been charged with insulting the monarchy, a violation carrying a sentence of up to 15 years on each count, upon conviction.

Back then, demonstrators started bringing large rubber ducks to protests to use them as shields against water cannons used against them by police. Protesters also created fake banknotes depicting a duck to demand the king return assets belonging to the people, Reuters news agency reported.

Hunger strike milestone

Meanwhile, two protesters, Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon, 21, and Orawan “Bam” Phuphong, 23, were reported to be conscious at Thammasat University Hospital where they received electrolytes on the 50th day of their hunger strike.

The women began the strike in a Bangkok prison on Jan. 18, two days after they appeared in court to ask a judge to revoke their bail as an act of solidarity to demand that other anti-government activists have similar charges dropped.

As their condition deteriorated, a court consented to the Thammasat hospital’s request to allow them to be treated outside of a prison hospital.

TLHR lawyer Krisadang Nootjaras told Agence France-Presse news agency that the women were willing to fight for their cause.

“These kids still stick with their ideology,” the lawyer said.

“If they prove they are right, [the public] will support them.”


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