Facebook user gets 6 years imprisonment for lèse majesté

Thai Criminal Court sentenced a man accused of defaming the monarchy on facebook to nine years imprisonment with a sentence reduced by one third.

The Criminal Court on Ratchadapisek Rd, Bangkok, on Wednesday, 20 January 2016, sentenced Piya J., a 46 year-old programmer of offenses under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, to nine years in jail.

According to iLaw, a civil society organisation promoting freedom of expression, it was the longest jail term per count on lèse majesté cases ever handed by the Criminal Court.  

Nonetheless, the court reduced the sentenced by one third to six years imprisonment in total.

Piya was arrested on 11 December 2014. He was charged with allegedly posting lèse majesté comments along with pictures of the King on 27-28 July 2013 under the Facebook profile of Pongsathorn Bantorn, after individuals in the northern province of Nan and the central province of Nakhon Pathom filed lèse majesté complaints against him with the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD).

In addition to Article 112, Piya was also charged under Article 14 of the Computer Crime Code, which forbids the importation of illegal computer content.

During a press conference after the arrest, the police claimed that Piya admitted that he posted the allegedly lèse majesté content and added that Piya has changed his registered name six times since 2001 and that he illegally used his old national identification cards.

At the preliminary hearing held in camera on May 2015, Piya, however, denied the allegations and said that the alleged lèse majesté Facebook profile was not his. Since his arrest, he has consistently denied his involvement in the lèse majesté Facebook profile, which was not his, although the picture on the profile was his picture, which was taken from the defendant’s Twitter and Google Plus accounts.

The only incriminating evidence in this case is the image of the King captured from a mobile phone. The computer forensic evidence and IP addresses were not considered on the case.

Despite weak evidence, the court cited the testimony of Achariya Ruangratpong, one of the plaintiff, as primary evidence on the case.

The plaintiff told the court that Piya used to adopt the name ‘Vincent Wang’ as his online identity before in which the convict admitted to be true.

Achariya also told the court that Piya used to reside in Don Muang District of Bangkok which is consistent with the information from investigators that Piya once adopted the name Pongsathorn Bantorn at Don Muang District Office in the past.       

Piya was a former officer of the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET). He has never participated in any political demonstration and said that he has no interests in politics.  

The case resembles several examples of false Facebook identities.

In mid November 2014, the authorities arrested Jaruwan E., 26, Anon, 22, and Chat, 20, lèse majesté suspects accused of being involved in the Facebook page “Jaruwan E. (full surname)” which posted explicit lèse majesté content and photos of Jaruwan.

Jaruwan denied all allegations, saying that she did not have control over the page and she believed that the page was a ploy by a disappointed admirer to cause her trouble, suspecting that “Chat”, a friend of "Anon" her boyfriend, was behind the Facebook page. The military then arrested the two men, one of whom cannot read or write.

In February 2015, the three were released after being detained for three months as the military prosecutors decided not to indict them.

Thai Netizen Network (TNN), a CSO promoting internet freedom, in 2011 recorded several cases of copycat Facebook pages/profiles which posted explicit lèse majesté material as a ploy to cause trouble to ultra-royalists using the laws they themselves support.

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