A villager in Roi Et province in northeastern Thailand has been tried for allegedly distributing leaflets with offensive content, and expects to hear the court’s ruling in November.
Uthai (family name withheld), 38, a resident in Thawat Buri district in Roi Et, was charged with distributing leaflets containing lèse majesté content in 2009. He denied all charges during the police investigation and in court. He has been granted bail, using the position of a civil servant he knows as a guarantee, worth 300,000 baht.
The court hearings were held in the provincial court in August and September this year, and the verdict will be delivered on 22 November.
Uthai, who finished Grade 6 in school, is a farmer, and also works as a barber and a motorcycle repairer and runs a small rice mill in his village. He is married with a 14-year-old son.
He was accused by Thongchai and Phraiwan Tamphiban, who claimed that they had received the leaflets from him. The couple, who are farmers and traders living in Chiang Khwan district in the same province, had hired Uthai’s wife to sew collars and sleeves on female blouses for a few years. They would visit his wife at their house to bring the blouses and retrieve the finished products once a month. Uthai’s wife would then distribute the blouses to other villagers to do the job.
According to Thongchai’s testimony in court, in the late afternoon of 26 July 2009 he and his wife went to receive the finished blouses and make payment as usual. He was sitting reading a comic book on a bamboo litter at the house, while waiting for the wives to finish counting the number of blouses, when Uthai came to talk to him and asked ‘Yellow or red?’ He answered, ‘Neither yellow nor red’. Uthai then went to take a set of 7-8 leaflets bound together from under the roof of the house, and handed them to him, saying ‘Read these’. When he was into the first 4-5 lines, the counting was finished, and Uthai then told him that he could take them home to read. He took them and placed them on the dashboard of his van.
A few days later, when Thongchai was away working in nearby Kalasin province, his wife called him to say that the village head had asked her whether she had received any leaflets. At first, he did not remember, but later recalled that he had received the leaflets from Uthai. He then told his wife to take the leaflets to the village head. Afterwards, he was summoned to testify at both Chiang Kwan and Thawat Buri Police Stations. What he told the police was the same as what he testified to the court, he said.
During cross examination, the defence said that Thongchai had given conflicting accounts: he told police investigators that he picked up a comic book and saw the leaflets already there, in contrast to his testimony in court that Uthai went to fetch the leaflets from under the roof to give to him. Thongchai insisted that his court testimony was true.
He, however, agreed with the point made by the defence lawyers that Uthai’s house, which was a typical rural paddy field shelter, was accessible from all sides.
He said that he had never been involved in any political activities, and been associated with neither yellow or red camps.
Sawang Ruengsak, the head of Thongchai’s village, testified that on 29 July 2009 he received a phone call from an official at Chiang Kwan District Office, asking him whether he had seen any lèse majesté leaflets distributed in his village. He told the official that he had not seen such leaflets. An hour later, a Territorial Defence Volunteer came to ask him the same question. So he asked the volunteer about the source of the leaflets, and was told that they came from Thawat Buri district. He then went to ask villagers whether they had seen the leaflets, and met Thongchai’s wife who told him that she had received a set of such leaflets, and brought them from the van’s dashboard to show him. He recalled that the leaflets were of A4 size, but did not remember the number of pages. He found that they contained lèse majesté content, and submitted the leaflets to a Deputy District Chief of Chiang Kwan a day later.
Veera Worawat, Deputy District Chief for Security of Chiang Kwan District, testified that upon receiving the leaflets from the village head, he forwarded them to his superiors for consideration. When the superiors considered that the leaflets would cause insecurity in local areas, he was assigned to make a police complaint at the local police station.
He told the defence lawyers during cross examination that he could not remember from whom Sawang, the village head, had received the leaflets, but remembered which village they were from.
The leaflets did not contain any information about their publishers and their origin could not be verified. They could be placed anywhere to incriminate anyone, and in the current political conflicts, lèse majesté charges are often used as a tool for persecution, he said.
Pol Lt Col Kritsadin Chantarasicha, an investigator at Thawat Buri Police Station, testified that his team initially saw that Uthai was likely to have committed the crimes, and summoned him to hear the charges, which he denied.
The police investigating team submitted the case to the Royal Thai Police committee on lèse majesté cases for consideration, and the committee ordered the team to conduct further interrogation. After receiving the results of further investigations, the committee resolved to drop the case. However, when the case was later referred to the Roi Et Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, it decided to prosecute the case, he said.
During the police officer’s testimony, the court repeatedly asked whom exactly the village head received the leaflets from, and he said that it was Thongchai himself, which was in contradiction to the village head’s testimony.
Phraiwan also testified in court as a prosecution witness, giving a similar account of the event to that of her husband.
Uthai, the defendant, testified that his wife had been hired to produce blouse collars and sleeves, and he had initially had no idea who her employers were, as they normally would only talk to his wife. He knew that his wife was paid 3 baht per blouse, and she could do about 10 pieces per day. He later tried to tell her not to do the job because it was not worth it, both in terms of wages and eyestrain, but she insisted.
He said that Thongchai and his wife came to his house on 24 July, not on 26, as Thongchai had testified. He remembered the date well as it was the birthday of a child of his wife’s sister. On that evening, his father was sitting in his own house which was nearby, his wife was at her sister’s house, about 100 meters away, helping with the cooking for the birthday party, and he was at his rice mill at the back of his house. At about 6pm, he saw the headlights of a car approaching, and went to see who the visitors were. He then asked his father to go to call his wife, and went back to the rice mill. He later went out to deliver rice in the village, and came back after 8 pm and saw nobody home, thinking that everybody was at the party.
Almost a month later, the police came to take him to Chiang Kwan Police Station. There, he was accused of distributing the leaflets and was told to confess, but he refused. Later, he met Thongchai at the station. He said that he had never known Thongchai before, but knew Phraiwan by name. Thongchai told him to confess, saying that it was nothing. He refused, not knowing what the leaflets were all about and what charges would be lodged against him.
A few months later, the Thawat Buri police came to ask him about the leaflets, and he said that he had never seen them. The police came yet again, with Thongchai and Phraiwan. This time, they took photographs of his house, and wanted him to sign them, but he refused.
He was later summoned to the police station several times, and he claimed that he got to read the leaflets only when he was summoned to hear the charges there.
He told the court that he and his family were farmers who worshipped the monarchy, and he had always told his wife and son to respect the King, and had never got involved with any political activities.
When the prosecution asked why he had Kharom Pholpornklang, a lawyer for the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, as his lawyer, he said that he had no money to hire a lawyer and his brother had recommended this lawyer, who agreed to defend his case for free. He had seen the lawyer on television and was aware that he was a lawyer for the UDD.
See details of the case: http://freedom.ilaw.or.th/th/case/362