A man was sentenced on Friday (4 March 2022) to 3 years in prison on a royal defamation charge for putting a sticker on a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn in front of the Supreme Court during a protest on 19 September 2020.
Narin (wearing a Guy Fawkes mask) with his supporters on the day of the hearing (Photo by Ginger Cat)
Narin (last name withheld) was charged with royal defamation for placing a sticker saying “ku kult,” which is the logo for a political satire page, over the eyes of a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn in front of the Supreme Court while he was participating in the 19 September 2020 protest at Sanam Luang.
According to the ruling, a CCTV camera recorded footage of a man climbing up to the portrait of the King in front of the Supreme Court during the protest and putting a sticker onto the portrait. The next day (20 September 2020), a police officer working undercover among the protesters then found Narit crossing the street at Khok Wua Intersection and followed him. The officer tripped him up, then helped him up, and asked his name.
Narin and his friends then filed a complaint with Chana Songkhram Police Station that he was being followed. When the police asked why he was being followed, Narin told them that it is likely because he put a sticker on a portrait of the King. He also said that he did it out of ignorance, recklessness, and because of the mood during the protest. He then signed a document confirming that he was the man in the CCTV footage.
A Technology Crime Suppression officer also testified to the court saying that Ku kult is an ‘anti-monarchy’ Facebook page. The court then ruled that putting the sticker onto the portrait of the King was intended to signify that such people are greater than the King, and that it is insulting even though it is not done directly to the King himself.
The court sentenced Narin to 3 years in prison, but because the complaint he filed with Chana Songkhram Police Station was useful to the case, it reduced the sentence to 2 years. The order sentencing him was signed by judge Keson Chaiyawong.
Narin’s lawyers requested bail for him using a security of 100,000 baht. He was granted bail and released in order to appeal his case. The order granted him bail was signed by judge Mookmethin Klannurak.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) lawyer Pongpetch Konghom said that the court refused to allow either the prosecutor or the defendant to summon expert witnesses to testify, and that only police witnesses were summoned. Other evidence and testimony came from the inquiry process. He said that even though the prosecutor was not able to summon expert witnesses to testify whether Narin’s action constituted an offense under Section 112, their testimony is already included in the report submitted by the public prosecutor to the court, and that the defendant’s lawyers were not given the chance to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses and were not allowed to summon their own expert witness to court.
According to Pongpetch, the lawyers intended to summon legal experts, such as Sawatree Suksri, lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, or linguistics experts, such as Isara Choosri, lecturer at the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia, Mahidol University. He said that not being allowed to summon witnesses denied Narin the right to fight his case.
Pongpetch also observed that the court issued its verdict very quickly, since Narin was summoned to testify on Tuesday (1 March 2022), and even though he asked not to testify, the court scheduled a hearing on Friday (4 March 2022) to issue the verdict.
He said that Narin’s action is not an offense under Section 112, since putting a sticker on a portrait is not defamation or a threat. An insult also needs to be committed against the person, not an image.
Lawyer Kittisak Kongthong also said that the witness examinations were tense, and that the court did not record questions from the defendant’s lawyers. The judge also acted in an oppressive manner, and asked questions for the public prosecutor. The judge also ordered expert witnesses for both the prosecutor and the defendant not to be summoned, despite objections from both parties, and said that the court could make its own judgement.
Kittisak also said that the judge asked the defendant’s lawyers whether it would be insulting to put a sticker onto a Buddha image, and said following the examination of the prosecution witnesses that a lawyer’s job is not to help their client but to bring out the truth. The judge also asked the defendant’s lawyers if they know what their professional association is called and pressed them until they said that they know.
The Thai lawyers’ organization is officially called the “Lawyers Council Under Royal Patronage.”