Jurisdiction dispute settled, military court gets to try lèse majesté case

The Court Jurisdiction Committee (CJC) has ruled that the Military Court has jurisdiction over a lèse majesté case concerning a former blogger, saying that the lèse majesté content he posted was still online after the 2014 coup d’état.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the Military Court of Bangkok on Wednesday, 20 January 2016, read out the resolution of the CJC on the jurisdiction over the case of Sirapop (surname withheld due to privacy concerns), 52, accused of offenses under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.

The CJC resolution declares that the Military Court has the authority to try the lèse majesté case on the grounds that the online content allegedly defaming the Thai monarchy which Sirapop posted still existed online after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the coup-maker, issued Announcements Nos. 37/2014 and 38/2014 on 25 May 2014 to transfer jurisdiction over lèse majesté and other national security related cases to the military courts.

The alleged lèse majesté content was deleted on 30 June 2014.

This means that Sirapop’s trial will continue in the Military Court which allows no appeal and usually give harsher sentences on lèse majesté cases in comparison to civilian courts.

According to iLaw, a civil society group promoting freedom of expression, the heaviest jail term per count handed down by a criminal court in a lèse majesté case was the nine years given to Piya J. yesterday.

A military court last year, however, gave 10 years to two convicts, Pongsak S., and Sassiwimol (surname withheld due to privacy concerns).

Pongsak was sentenced to a total of 60 years’ imprisonment over six lèse majesté Facebook posts, the heaviest penalty for lèse majesté ever recorded, while Sassiwimol was given 56 years by a military court. The jail terms in both cases, however, were halved as they pleaded guilty.        

In September 2015, the criminal court disagreed with the military court over the Sirapop case, and ruled that it had jurisdiction over the case. The ruling was delivered after the defendant submitted a request to the criminal court under Article 10 of the 1999 Court Jurisdiction Act to ask whether he should be tried by the civilian instead of the military court.   

Article 10 of the Court Jurisdiction Act stipulates that if an accused has doubts over which court should have jurisdiction over a case, a pre-trial request can be submitted to the court of justice or the military court to rule on jurisdiction over the case. If the rulings of the two courts vary, the Court Jurisdiction Committee shall determine which court should handle the case.

Disagreeing with the CJC resolution, TLHR pointed out that the alleged lèse majesté crime was committed before the coup d’état, therefore the case should go to a civilian court. However, the military court earlier dismissed the claim, giving the same reason as the CJC.

Sirapop was indicted by military prosecutors for offences under Article 112 of the Criminal Code and Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act (importing illegal content into a computer system) for composing and posting lèse majesté poems on his personal blog and Facebook page under the pen name ‘Rung Sila.’

Besides the lèse majesté charge, he has also been indicted for defying Order No. 41/2014 of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) by not reporting to the military in June. Sirapop was arrested on 25 June 2014 in northeastern Kalasin Province, while he was attempting to flee to a neighbouring country.

After being detained for seven days, he was accused of posting messages deemed lèse majesté on the Internet. He has since been detained in the Bangkok Remand Prison. The military court repeatedly denied him bail, citing flight risk and the severity of the charge.

During the first trial in January 2015, Sirapop told Prachatai “I’m still determined to fight for my principles for I believe that I’ve done nothing wrong and apparently according to the law I’m still innocent even though [lèse majesté] suspects like us are usually discriminated against.”

The defendant, who is the father of three with his youngest child still in high school, could face up to 45 years imprisonment if he is found guilty.