Constitutional Court acquits FFP of sedition charges

The Constitutional Court of Thailand ruled today (21 January) to acquit the Future Forward Party (FFP) and its leaders of anti-monarchy and sedition allegations, citing insufficient evidence.

Pannika Wanich, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, and other party leaders at the press conference following the court ruling

Now known as “the Illuminati Case,” the sedition complaint was made against the FFP in June 2019 by Nattaporn Toprayoon, former advisor to the Chief Ombudsman who has previously acted as a lawyer for the PAD, the Thai Patriots Network and other right-wing groups. Nattaporn accused the Party of attempting to overthrow the "democratic regime with the king as the head of state" according to Section 49 in the 2017 Constitution, and of being linked to the Illuminati, a fictitious secret organization believed by conspiracy theorists to be seeking world domination.

Nattaporn’s complaint claimed that FFP members are anti-monarchy and anti-religion, and that the party symbol points to its link to the Illuminati and the party’s hidden purpose. The complaint was filed on 18 June 2019 and the Court accepted it on 22 July.

At 11.30 today (21 January), the Court ruled to acquit the party and its leaders on the ground that a political party must submit its regulations to the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) at the time of the party’s registration. Since the ECT approved the FFP’s party registration, the party’s regulations could not be against the "democratic regime with the monarch as the head of state.”

The Court also ruled that there is not enough evidence to prove beyond doubt that the FFP and its leaders are using their rights and freedom to overthrow this regime, or that the party leaders are anti-monarchy and intend to change the structure of Thai society.

However, the Court ruling said that the party should amend any part of its regulations that may cause confusion and conflict, such as the party’s statement that it upholds “the principle of democracy under the constitution” instead of "a democratic regime with the monarch as the head of state” as used in the text of the constitution.

At the party headquarters at the Thai Summit Building, a crowd of reporters and supporters had been gathering since 10.00 to wait to hear the court ruling, after the party announced on its social media pages that its leaders and MPs will not be travelling to the Constitutional Court to hear the ruling but will be watching the live broadcast at the party headquarters.

After the ruling was read, the crowd celebrated by shouting “Prayut out” and “Death to dictatorship. Long live democracy.” Some gave the three-finger ‘Hunger Games’ salute, a symbol of resistance since the early days of the 2014 coup.

The crowd of FFP's supporters celebrating after the ruling was read. 

FFP secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said at the press conference following the ruling that this case should not have been brought in the first place, and that this “legal war” does not contribute anything to the country and to democracy, and therefore should stop.

Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit then declared that the party will march forward.

“We would like to thank all the people who support us, who stand behind us,” said Thanathorn, “because the effort of those people has brought us this far. Without the support of these people, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have achieved this much.”

This case is a one of a storm of lawsuits thrown at the FFP since the start of 2019. On 21 November, the Constitutional Court ruled to disqualify Thanathorn as an MP for holding shares in a media company, despite the company having ceased doing business in 2017.

The Constitutional Court also has yet to rule on whether the FFP violated Article 72 of the 2017 Organic Law on Political Parties by taking a loan from its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. The penalties include dissolution of the party and barring the party’s executive members from running in elections for a number of years.

An FFP supporter holding signs saying "Love Thanathorn" and "Prayut get out" while waiting to hear the ruling at the party headquarters this morning

The legal attack on FFP prompted criticism from several international organizations. Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement last night (20 January) ahead of today’s court ruling, calling for the Thai authorities “to stop instrumentalizing the legal process to intimidate and harass the leaders and members of the Future Forward party.”

AI’s statement also said that “the spate of prosecutions targeting the party appear to be in clear retaliation for activities of the party that fall within the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

Meanwhile, Charles Santiago, Chair of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), said after the ruling that while today’s decision was welcomed, the FFP is still at risk of dissolution and is still facing “a myriad of other politically motivated charges,” and that the Thai government “should immediately drop all politically motivated charges against [the FFP] and democracy activists” if it wants to “restore faith into its so-called “return to democracy”.”