The most perplexing and severe charges made since monarchy-reform protests began in August is the charges of intending to harm the Queen.
Three people have been charged with intending to harm Her Majesty Queen Suthida when the royal motorcade surprisingly passed the Government House on Oct 14. The three now faced possible life imprisonment under Article 110 of the penal code.
Bunkueanun “Francis” Paothong, 21, is the youngest of the three, and still a student at Mahidol University.
Bunkueanun and two others, including former lese majeste dentainee Ekachai Hongkangwan insisted on their innocence.
เสด็จผ่านมาทาง สะพานชมัยมรุเชษฐ์ ข้างทำเนียบรัฐบาล
— Deep Blue Sea (@WassanaNanuam) October 14, 2020
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights is representing Bunkueanon in the case and I was recently invited to meet the lawyers to discuss the details of the incident which led to the charge. This is because my colleague Tappanai Boonbandit and I were on site and in fact interviewed both of them on Facebook Live just minutes before the incident and I even caught up with Bunkueanun for another chat right afterward.
After spending over an hour with the lawyers watching various video clips and discussing the details, I concluded that the situation which led to the charges was in fact fishy – and that might even be an understatement.
For a start, neither my recollection nor any of the video clips of the incident showed that police have informed or warned the demonstrators on Pitsanuloke Road that a royal motorcade was about to pass. No early warning, no last-minute warning, no warning.
Just police pushing the crowd of 100 to 200 monarchy-reform demonstrators away and what I and many thought was an attempt to clear the protesters from being too close to the Government House, which is the office of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-ocha.
Why? Why would the police not inform the demonstrators on site of an incoming royal motorcade of the queen and Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti?
It was only when the first car and two police motorcycles passed and a vintage beige rolls-royce emerged that I and many others realized that it was a royal motorcade.
Where were the smartly-dressed palace police, normally deployed at least 20 minutes in advance before a royal motorcade that would normally give away to the understanding that a royal motorcade will soon pass this way/ none could be seen and that’s not just unusual but abnormal.
In the end, the various video clips also showed no one clearly obstructing the limousine or trying to hit the car, particularly after it became clear to them that it was a royal motorcade.
Angry words including “my taxes” and some expletives not fit or legal to repeat here have been hurled against the queen, however. But that’s not an intention to harm the queen and I did not hear that any expletives came from the mouth of either Bunkueanun or Ekachai.
Ekachai, upon realizing that it was a royal motorcade, simply announced it on a hand-held loud speaker and urged fellow demonstrators to flash three-fingers salute in defiance. Bunkueanun meanwhile stood in front of the police line just seconds before being pushed away and said something to the police.
Given the circumstances, it’s no wonder why some people entertain various conspiracy theories as to whether it was an entrapment or not. Prayut cited the incident when he declared the state of severe emergency only hours after that.
It’s fortunate for Thailand that the severe state of emergency which greatly restricted rights such as right to freedom of expression as well as press freedom were lifted only after a week when Prayut realized it backfired and strengthened protesters’ political resolve.
Also, none of these ‘crimes’ should carry a maximum imprisonment term of life and minimum of 16 years in prison.
While harming the king or the queen carries a life imprisonment term, for ordinary folks, the maximum imprisonment for assaulting an ordinary person is just two years.
The disparity between life and two years maximum imprisonment term for harming a king or queen and that of ordinary citizen is just too wide under Thai law. That itself also explains why so many young Thais want to see monarchy reformed.