(1 October) The leader of the royalist Yellowshirts movements has been convicted of lese majeste, or insulting the monarchy, by the Appeals Court for repeating remarks deemed offensive to the monarchy.
The case stems from an the incident in 2008 when an activist called Ms. Daranee Charncherngsilpakul, aka "Da Torpedo", gave a speech to an audience at Sanam Luang, just yards away from Bangkok′s Grand Palace, criticising the Royal Family.
The act of insulting the Thai monarchy is criminalised under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, and Ms. Daranee was subsequently found guilty of lese majeste by the court, which also sentenced her to 15 years in prison. Ms. Daranee is currently jailed at a Bangkok prison.
Later, Mr. Sondhi Limthongkul, a prominent figure of People′s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), read parts of Ms. Daranee on a rally stage on the night of 20 July 2008, when the Yellowshirts were gathered for a protest against the government at the time.
Mr. Sondhi had accused former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies of plotting against the monarchy, and he was citing the incident of Ms. Daranee as proof to his allegations about a sinister plot to overthrow the Royal Family.
However, Mr. Sondhi′s was soon charged with lese majeste for repeating Ms. Daranee′s remarks, as the prosecutors argued that propagating the offensive material to a wider audience also amounts to insulting the monarchy. Mr. Sondhi insisted he was simply acting out of his loyalty to the monarchy.
After the lower court had acquitted Mr. Sondhi, the prosecutors filed an appeal, and the Appeals Court has today overturned the verdict.
The court noted that it had been aware of Mr. Sondhi′s insistence of his good intention to expose the alleged anti-monarchy attitude of Ms. Daranee, but it ruled that "it was not necessary for the defendant to re-broadcast the contents in public places, as some Thais were not aware of what Ms. Daranee had said, and they only learned about the matter from the defendant′s words"
It continued, "[the incident] caused much discussion and criticism, eventually affecting the monarchy. The defendant′s action lacks sufficient caution."
Therefore, the Appeals Court found Mr. Sondhi guilty of lese majeste and sentenced him to 2 years in jail. Nevertheless, Mr. Sondhi had contested the sentence, saying he intends to take the matter to the Supreme Court, and applied for bail. The court later granted him a release on a bail of 500,000 baht.
The case highlights the nature of the Thai lese majeste laws which has been described by critics as silencing any discussion of the monarchy and violating the principles of free speech.
Opponents of the law argue that such stifling measures help discourage the media from reporting about ongoing lese majeste cases, as the news agencies have become fearful of being punished for broadcasting offensive contents.
Many Redshirts also criticised the case of Mr. Sondhi, accusing the court of political bias, as Mr. Sondhi was allowed to walk free throughout the years of court procedures, whereas Redshirts-affliated defendants in lese majeste cases have been routinely denied release on bail – including Ms. Daranee herself.
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