Three days after the coup d’état in May, the military made an announcement that cases related to national security, which includes Thailand’s most controversial law, Article 112 of the Criminal Code known as lese majeste law, would fall under the jurisdiction of the military court.
After swiftly convicting two anti-establishment red-shirt lese majeste suspects to a decade of imprisonment per single count, the military court is proven far less tolerant of those accused of defaming the revered Thai monarchy in comparison to the civilian court.
According to iLaw
, an advocacy group promoting legal awareness on human rights, from 2010 to 2014, the Civilian and Military Court have tried at least 46 cases under Article 112.
Since 2010, the civilian court have tried 41 lese majeste cases in total, four of which were tried in camera. In this number, the civilian court sentenced 31 defendants of lese majeste cases to prison. The average jail term for one court is 4.4 years with the heaviest penalty of six years per count.
The convict who in total received the longest jail term is Daranee C. (aka. Da Torpedo), who was tried in camera and sentenced to 15 years in jail (five years each for three counts).
Usually, the court cited that certain lese majeste needed to be tried in camera because the content in the case is related to the revered Thai monarchy.
However, according to Daranee C, who objected the court’s decision to try her in camera on June 2009, she stated in an open letter titled ‘the press and sisters who love justice’ on 24 June that the court wanted to conceal the truth from the public. She further stated that the court’s decision to hold lese majeste trials in camera destroy integrity of the rule of law completely.
In comparison to the civilian court, the military court have tried only five lese majeste cases since 2010, but as many as four cases were tried in camera
On the deposition hearing of one of the lese majeste suspect on 13 November, the military court ruled that the court would be tried in camera in order to ‘maintain public morals’ since lese majeste cases are sensitive. However, no clear criteria is established whether certain lese majeste cases should be tried in camera or not.
Up to now, the military court have sentenced two lese majeste convicts to prison, Kathawut B., a redshirt radio host and Thai E-news editor known by pen name as Somsak Pakdeedech. Kathawut received 10 years of imprisonment for a single count and Somsak was sentenced to nine years in jail. The average jail term per count sentenced to lese majeste convicts by the military court is 9.5 years.
These harsh penalties are significantly higher than the penalties handed from the civilian court.
A military staff judge advocate reportedly reasoned for the twice penalty of the civilian court that because protecting the monarchy is the main mission of the military.
Coup makers, since 1976 coup d’etat, have regularly cited a surge of lese majeste as a prerequisite for overthrowing an elected government. The 2006 coup, when lese majeste was cited as one of the major reasons, marked a surge of the lese majeste cases. The atrocity in April-May 2010, where almost 100 of people were killed during the military crackdown on anti-establishment red-shirt protesters, also contributed to a dramatic rise of lese majeste cases, especially the offences committed online. During the brief period of civil government from 2011-2013, there can be seen a slowdown of the increase in the number of cases under Article 112, or the lese majeste law.
Both courts repeatedly denied bails for lese majeste suspects and defendants.
After the coup, the military court only granted bail to one suspect -- a writer with penname Bundit Aneeya, who was 73-year-old, has only one kidney, has to carry a urine drainage bag with him all the time and suffered from mental illness.
Lese majeste cases tried in camera by both civilian and the military court are the followings (compiled by iLaw) :
- Daranee C. (aka. Da Torpedo), a journalist from the redshirt camp, anti-establishment political camp, who was charged with making three speeches allegedly defaming the revered Thai monarchy during the redshirt gathering in June and July 2008. She was arrested in July 2011 and has been detained for three and a half year. The court repeatedly rejected her bail and choose to hold trial in camera. The Criminal Court on December 2011 sentenced Daranee to five years in prison for each of the three sentences. Therefore, she received 15 years of prison term in total. Darenee requested for an appeal. However, the Appeal Court rejected the request on June 2013, citing that she must receive heavy penalty to not making an example for others.
- An unnamed Malay Muslim man from the southern border province of Pattani, who was charged for attaching two of many posters of the southern violence next to the portrait of the queen on 12 August 2009 (the queen’s birthday). He was detained under the martial law and emergency decree imposed on the restive Deep South by the military without being informed of the charges against him and was reportedly tortured into confession. However, he was released on bail later. The prosecutors pressed lese majeste charge against him on December 2009. The defendant asked not to be identified because of fear since the case is concerned with lese majeste and happened in the restive south. The case is now at the Court of First Instance
- A 73-year-old writer and translator with the pen name Bundit Aneeya, who is charged with lese majeste for expressing political ideas and distributing documents deemed defaming the monarchy at the conference on law and political parties organized by the Election Commission and the Office of Constitutional Court on 22 September 2003. He was arrested on November 2004 and was charged by prosecutor on February 2005. He was detained for four month before the court granted him bail. On March 2006, the Court of First Instance sentenced Bundit to four years in prison in total (two years for each sentence). The defendant, however, requested for an appeal. On February 2014, the Supreme Court Court reduced the penalty by one third with jail term suspended for three years due to the defendant’s acute psychosis. On 26 November 2014, Bundit was charged with lese majeste and detained by the authority again after he spoke about the monarchy during a forum organized by the Innovation Party at a building on Ratchadaphisek Road. However, the military last week, granted him 400,000 bail under the conditions that he will not join any political activity again due to his critical health conditions.
- An unnamed man accused of selling the Thai translation of the lese majeste book ‘The Devil’s Discus’, which talks about the death of King Rama 8. The suspect was arrested on May 2006 by police officers in plain cloths. The prosecutor pressed lese majeste charge against the suspect on 27 August 2013. However, the court cited that the application of the 2007 Publishing Act on the case was unclear and granted bail to the suspect the next day. On April 2014, the court ruled that he did not know the content of the book and the suspect was acquitted.
The Military Court
- Squadron leader Chanin K. charged with posting lese majeste comments on his Facebook 24 times from February to October 2010. He, however, denied the accusation and submitted the complaint to the Crime Suppression Division that he did not post the alleged lese majeste comments himself, but was set up by his Facebook friends. The staff judge advocate pressed lese majeste charge against on February 2011. However, there is no further information on the case. The suspect was later stripped from his post in the Royal Thai Air Force. After the 2014 coup, he was also summoned by the coup-maker twice.
- Kathawut B., a red-shirt radio host whose programmes allegedly contained lèse majesté comments. He was summoned by the military to report according to Order 44/2557 of the coup-maker’s National Council for Peace and Order and detained for seven days in June before being charged with lèse majesté. On 20 October, the Military Court tried Kathawut and another suspect who asked not to be identified in camera despite objections from the defendants and the presence of representatives from the European Union (EU) and the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), who came to observe the trial. Khatawat requested for bail six times. However, the rejected his bail request citing flight risk and severity of the case. On 18 November, sentenced him to ten years in prison, but the jail term was reduced in half because he pleaded guilty.
- The anti-establishment editor of Thai E-News website and a podcast program host with the pen name Somsak Pakdeedech, who aggregate political news from various sources including Prachatai. He was arrested on 25 May and was charged with lese majeste for publicizing an article written by Ji Ungpakorn, a former Chulalongkorn University political scientist, who has lived in self-exile in the UK since 2009, on his website. On 18 November, the Military Court sentenced him to ten years jail. However, he pleaded guilty and the jail term was halved.
- Siraphop, a red-shirt political activist and blogger allegedly accused for using the pen name ‘Rungsira’ for posting lese majeste contents online periodically since 2009 on Prachatai website and his personal blog. Siraphop was first arrested for failing to report himself to the military and charged with disobeying Order No. 41/2014 of the National Council for Peace and Order. However, in June an unidentified individual sued him with lese majeste for posting contents deem defaming the monarchy on Prachatai website and on Facebook. Siraphop has remained under custody since July. On 8 September, the Siraphop’s lawyer requested bail and complained to the military court that the court has no jurisdiction on the case. However, the military court denied bail and cited that since the suspect’s lese majeste contents are still online, the crime of the suspect is still considered to be committed in present. The military court reasoned for the trial in camera in this case that to allow an open trial will destroy public moral.