Thai-Indonesian Facebook campaign to free lèse majesté convict

After a military court in Thailand sentenced a 68-year-old musician to a second 18 months prison term for writing messages defaming the Thai monarchy on restroom walls, Thais and Indonesians have started a Facebook campaign to free him.

Since last Thursday, 15 October 2015, many Thais and Indonesians have posted pictures of themselves on Facebook with a message ‘Free Opas’ written on their palms with the hashtag #FREEOPAS and #FREE_OPAS in order to call for the release of Opas C, an elderly lèse majesté convict now serving three years in jail.

The campaign was started by Nithiwat Wannasiri, a musician from an anti-lèse majesté music band, Faiyen, now in self-imposed exile, who explained that the military ‘dictator’ has been using the lèse majesté law, Article 112 of the Criminal Crime Code, as a tool to prosecute political dissidents and the latest victim of this law is Opas.

“One of your palms and the act of telling the world about the barbarity which the Thai military dictatorship inflicts on people in the country in a manner similar to North Korea, might help Uncle Opas to be able to spend his life outside prison,” said Nithiwat.

An anonymous participant in the campaign said “personally I disagree with this law anyhow. Anybody, regardless of political orientation, disagrees with this law.”         

On Friday, 16 October 2015, the Bangkok Military Court sentenced Opas to three years’ imprisonment under Article 112 for writing lèse majesté messages in a restroom in Seacon Square shopping mall in eastern Bangkok in October 2014. The court, however, halved the sentenced as he pleaded guilty.

With a three year jail term, also halved, for another lèse majesté message written on the same day, but in a different restroom, Opas now faces a total of three years in prison.

According to Sasinan Thamnithinan, a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) who represented the defendant, the military prosecutors could have indicted Opas on a single lèse majesté charge as he wrote the messages on the same day. However, they chose to file the cases separately, lengthening the court process and the severity of the jail term.

Opas was caught by guards at Seacon Square mall in eastern Bangkok on 15 October 2014 and later handed over to the military by mall personnel. He has remained in custody in Bangkok Remand Prison since.

The court repeatedly denied his bail requests although the defendant is diabetic and is battling with retinopathy. His lawyer said that Opas has suffered from symptoms of neurosis, which have developed since his arrest.

The alleged lèse majesté messages for which Opas was charged in the first case read: “The government of clowns that robbed the nation, led by f*** Prayut. They have issued ridiculous policies of amateur comedians. Their main job is to use the monarchy (uncle [censored by Prachatai*]). Their main weapon is Article 112. I’m sick of seeing your face [Prayut] every day. It tells me that you [Prayut] are near the end because of the looming internal conflict.”

Prachatai cannot publish the lèse majesté messages for which he was indicted in the second case.

Due to Opas’ poor health (he has diabetes and is developing retinopathy), Sauvakon C., Opas’ wife, earlier this year wrote a letter asking the court for mercy. The military court judges explained that they cannot suspend the jail term because the messages defamed the King and the jail term given is not severe.