Military court suspends jail term for yellow-shirt lèse majesté convict

The Military Court has for the first time in history suspended the jail term for a lèse majesté conviction in the case of a pro-establishment yellow shirt accused of publishing a false royal statement.

The Military Court of Bangkok on Tuesday, 29 September 2015, sentenced Niran Yaowapa, a former editor of ASTV Manager Online, a yellow-shirt news outlet, to five years imprisonment under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, and Article 14 of the 2007 Computer Crime Act for importing illegal computer content.

Niran was convicted under the lèse majesté law for publishing on 2 February 2015a forged statement of the Bureau of the Royal Household, which stated that King Bhumibol had decided to appoint a Regent to act on his behalf. The case caused ASTV to demote Niran from his post.

Since the defendant pleaded guilty, however, the court halved the jail term to two-years and six-months. The Military Court also suspended the jail term for three years, reasoning that the convict tried to fix his mistake by immediately taking down the false statement from the ASTV website as soon as it had been notified and issuing a statement of apology.

The Military Court on 10 February 2015 approved custody warrants for Niran and Krit B., another lèse majesté suspect accused in the same case, who is an active member of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the main faction of the anti-establishment red shirts.

While the military court granted 2.9 million baht bail to Niran on the same day that the custody warrant for him was issued, citing that there was no flight risk, Krit was held in custody for two weeks.  

Krit and his defence lawyer, Winyat Chatmontree from Free Thai Legal Aid, submitted a 400,000 baht bail request, but the court denied bail, citing flight risk and the severity of the case.

The Court’s decision to grant bail to the yellow-shirt suspect, but not to the red-shirt suspect charged with the same offences was highly criticised as biased, and the Military Court later granted 400,000 baht bail to Krit on 17 February 2015.  

The red shirt was arrested by more than ten military and police officers at his house in central Phetchabun Province on 3 February 2015. The officers interrogated him at a nearby police station for around three hours before searching the houses of two of his friends. Krit was then detained at a military camp for seven days before being detained at the Bangkok Central Remand Prison for another seven days.

The lèse majesté case against Krit B. is still ongoing and the next hearing in the case will be held on 19 October 2015.