Lawyers Council to Probe Arnon for ‘Inciting Hatred’ Against King

Lawyer and activist Arnon Nampa at a Harry Potter-themed protest on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, Aug. 3, 2020. Image: Prachatai.

BANGKOK — The national bar association on Thursday defended its decision to set up an investigation into whether one of its members, attorney and pro-democracy activist Arnon Nampha, has breached its code of conduct.

A spokesman for the Lawyers Council of Thailand Under Royal Patronage said a three-man committee was convened on Jan. 13 in response to a complaint it received from an assistant to the Prime Minister’s Office. The petition accused Arnon of “inciting hatred” toward the monarchy by leading a protest back in August.

“Article 18 of our Behavior Code says if there’s any action that may damage the professional reputation, we can investigate it,” committee spokesman Panya Jarumas said by phone.

Panya believes the inquiry will conclude about a month after Arnon submitted his written defense.

Arnon Nampa, right, holds a mock ballot box during a protest calling for an election on Feb. 10, 2018.

Article 18 of the Lawyer Council’s Behaviour Code stated that lawyers and attorneys of law must not “conduct themselves in violation of the good morals, or damage the dignity and reputation of the lawyer profession.”

The complaint against Arnon was submitted by Apiwat Kanthong, attorney and assistant to PM Office Minister Anucha Nakasai, urging the lawyer council to punish Arnon for his role in leading a protest against the government on Aug. 3.

Part of the complaint, dated Aug. 7, said Arnon “violated the revered and inviolable institution of the monarchy, which is beloved by all Thais, through his speeches. He distorted facts, insulted, slandered, incited unrest, and caused damages and hatred toward the monarchy with an aim to sow division within the country.”

Arnon was one of the organizers of a Harry Potter-themed rally on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on that day, where he urged demonstrators to “break the ceiling” and insist on reforms of the monarchy – surprising many onlookers.

His plea was later taken up by the main body of the student-led protesters, and monarchy reforms became one of three key goals sought by the movement.

Demonstrators at a Harry Potter-themed protest on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, Aug. 3, 2020.

Panya said punishment for breaching the council’s code of conduct varies, from suspension of attorney’s license for five years to probation and verbal warning.

“We don’t even know yet what the level of the punishment would be,” Panya said, while stressing that Arnon is considered innocent until proven guilty by the committee.

Arnon said on the phone Thursday he will submit a written defense statement within the next 15 days, adding that he is not particularly concerned by the news.

“The process is not complicated,” the 36-year-old activist and lawyer said. “I’m not worried, because the lawyer profession hasn’t really made much money for me anyway.”

Asked what he would feel if he’s found guilty and stripped of his license, Arnon replied, “That’d be a pity, because I wouldn’t be able to help poor people and the ordinary citizens.”

Koreeyor Manuchae, chairwoman of the Human Rights Lawyers Association, said she submitted a petition urging the Lawyers Council not to take up the complaint against Arnon, but to no avail.

The attorney said she’s concerned that the probe may become politicized.

“Arnon is already under the spotlight,” Koreeyor said. “It might also affect the Lawyers Council’s standing … I think the Lawyers Council shouldn’t have accepted this matter for consideration in the first place. What Arnon did was within the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”