(13 August) The Appeals Court ruled today that a prominent leader of the Redshirts was not guilty of defaming former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva when he accused Mr. Abhisit of displaying insolence in front of His Majesty the King.
In 2009, Mr. Jatupon Prompan, acting as a spokesman of the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), said in a press conference that Mr. Abhisit, who was the Prime Minister at the time, insulted King Bhumibol by sitting on a chair when he appeared before His Majesty the King a few weeks earlier.
Members of the Royal Family are treated with strict reverence in Thai public life. Those who seek audience with the Royal Family generally prostrate or kneel on the ground (foreign leaders are exempted from this practice). Therefore, Mr. Jatupon said, Mr. Abhisit was ′behaving as though he was equal to the king′ (ตีตนเสมอเจ้า).
The accusation turned out to be inaccurate, as there had been instances when top officials, Prime Ministers included, are allowed to be seated with His Majesty the King.
Mr. Abhisit later filed charge against Mr. Jatupon, who also served as MP for Pheu Thai Party, claiming that the Redshirts leader spread false information against him. The lawsuit accused Mr. Jatupon of ′causing misunderstanding and disgracing [Mr. Abhisit′s] reputation′.
The Criminal Court ruled on 20 July 2012 that Mr. Jatupon was guilty as charged, sentencing him to 6 months in prison. Mr. Jutupon was also fined for 50,000 baht and forced to advertise court decision on 2 daily newspapers for 7 days.
However, since Mr. Jatuporn had no history of criminal conviction, the court gave Mr. Jatupon a suspended sentence.
Mr. Jatuporn then appealed against the court decision, which led to the verdict of the Appeals Court today.
The Appeals Court stated that Mr. Jatupon′s claim against Mr. Abhisit was ‘the rhetoric from his own perspective’, which may sound ‘invalid’ and ‘subjective’ to the public. The Court also noted that Mr. Jatupon has never appeared before the Royal Family, so it is forgiveable that he was mistaken about the tradition.
Hence, the Court of Appeal ruled that Mr. Jatupon was not guilty, and announced the previous court decision to be nullified.
The Royal Family is virtually a taboo topic in Thailand, but it does not stop various political factions to play politics by invoking the monarchy in its rhetoric. The surest way to defame opponents in Thailand is to accuse them of being disrespectful to the monarchy.
Although it is mostly the royalist Yellowshirts and Democrat Party that charge the Redshirts of insulting the monarchy, Mr. Jatupon′s case is a proof that some among the Redshirts movements are also capable of adopting the same rhetoric.