Thai Police Charge Teen with Royal Defamation

BenarNews staff
Bangkok
2020-12-17
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Thai Police Charge Teen with Royal Defamation A demonstrator holds signs during a pro-democracy rally in Bangkok demanding reforms to the monarchy and for the Thai government to resign, Dec. 10, 2020.
Reuters

Updated at 9:15 p.m. ET on 2020-12-17

A 16-year-old boy and a fellow activist were charged Thursday in Bangkok for allegedly violating Thailand’s strict royal defamation law by performing in a satirical street show that poked fun at the monarchy during a pro-democracy protest in October, their attorneys said.

Noppasilp – a schoolboy whose last name was withheld by his attorney for privacy reasons – and Jatuporn Sae Ung reported to the Yannawa police station in Bangkok after being summoned there, said Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a legal aid group that has been assisting anti-government protesters.

“This is the first royal defamation case against a youth since last year,” Kumklao Songsomboon, a lawyer for TLHR, told the media. “In just a month’s time, the royal defamation law was not only used against the protester leaders, but a youth, who just exercised his freedom of expression.” 

Noppasilp spoke to reporters outside the police station after he was charged and released.

“I hope the judicial system brings genuine justice. I request an abolishment of Article 112,” he said, referring to the article of Thailand’s penal code that covers royal defamation, which is better known as Lese-Majeste.

At least 33 people, including Noppasilp and Jatuporn as well as some top leaders of the pro-democracy movement, have been charged lately under the law in connection with youth-led protests that began in July, TLHR said.

The 33 also include four protest leaders – Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon, Tathep Ruangprapaikijseri, Chanin Wongseri and Kiatchai Tangpornpan – who were charged with alleged Lese-Majeste violations when they responded to a police summons at the Bang Pho station on Thursday, lawyer Kumklao said. All four denied the charges.

People who are tried and convicted under Lese-Majeste can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for actions or speech deemed insulting, defaming, or threatening to the king, queen or any other member of the royal family.

Noppasilp’s alleged accomplice, Jatuporn, said she felt they were treated unfairly.

“I am not worried because many of us were charged but I feel it is unfair. We did not give any speech, but just performed a fashion show,” Jatuporn said. “We will keep expressing ourselves and [our] demands.”

Noppasilp was taken to the Central Juvenile and Family Court for a mandatory review of his case before being released without bail, while police also released Jatuporn without bail, his lawyer said, adding that both of them pled not guilty to the charges.

Police did not immediately respond to queries from BenarNews on Thursday about the latest to be charged with Lese-Majeste.

Since mid-July young people have launched a series of massive street protests in which demonstrators demanded that former junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha resign, the military-backed constitution be rewritten and the monarchy be reformed.

Prayuth, as army chief at the time, staged a coup against the civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014. During the protests in recent months, he told the Thai public that the king had instructed him not to resort to charging protesters with Lese-Majeste.

In mid-November, however, as anti-government protests picked up in intensity amid reports of violence, the prime minister warned demonstrators that he would enforce “all pertaining laws” from that point on.

According to media reports, Jatuporn, 23, and Noppasilp both participated in a satirical "fashion catwalk" wearing outfits that appeared to reference members of the royal family, as protesters held signs complaining about the expensive lifestyle of one of his daughters.

A senior human rights researcher for Human Rights Watch said the interpretation of the law was too broad.

“Police said there were over 100 royal defamation complaints but the police did not follow suit with charges. But since Prayuth announced in November that he would exercise all pertaining laws, the Lese-Majeste cases have jumped,” Sunai Phasuk of HRW told BenarNews by phone Thursday.  

“The interpretation of Lese-Majeste is too loose and not in accordance with its literal meaning,” he said, citing another case in which a woman was charged for merely showing moral support for the demonstrators.

CORRECTION: An earlier version misreported that Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul was among four people charged at the Bang Pho police station on Thursday with Lese-Majeste.

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