Law scholar charged with royal defamation

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, former lecturer at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Law, former Future Forward MP and current Secretary-General of the Progressive Movement, has been charged with royal defamation for several posts he made on social media.

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul

Piyabutr reported to Dusit Police Station yesterday (20 June) after he received a summons on a royal defamation charge under Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code based on a complaint filed against him by Thepmontri Limpaphayom in November 2021.

The complaint concerns 8 posts Piyabutr made on his Twitter and Facebook accounts. However, Piyabutr said that he doesn’t think any of the posts constitute an offence under Section 112, and that the inquiry officer decided to charge him over only 1 out of the 8 posts. According to his lawyer Kritsadang Nutcharas, Piyabutr is being charged for a Tweet he made on 24 October 2021, in which he wrote that it is not possible to live peacefully in a “pseudoabsolute monarchy” under the current social conditions, and that a democratic reform of the monarchy, the military, and the courts is needed for everyone to co-exist peacefully.

The former lecturer said that reasonable people would be able to discern that the post also does not constitute an offence under Section 112, and that he would contest the charge. He said that the charge against him affects not only him but also freedom of expression as a whole, since people must accept that young people are speaking out about monarchy reform, and that he thinks that there must be a discussion in a safe space to allow for peaceful co-existence.

“I insist that these things can be discussed in an academic manner and with understanding, but instead I’m being charged for what I said. If, in the end, society sees that even expressing an academic opinion can still lead to a charge, we will no space for public discussion at all,” he said.

Piyabutr said he does not know Thepmontri personally, but would like Thepmontri to consider how the law works and that to file a criminal charge against someone has to follow what constitute an offence under the law. One can’t just use one’s imagination to file criminal charges against people to stop them from talking. Nevertheless, he said that he will not be filing defamation charges against Thepmontri, or the right-wing news agency Top News, which has previously attacked him on their programmes.

Piyabutr added that the charges will not stop him from speaking out. He said that people must have freedom of expression, and that he has been talking about monarchy reform for a long time, but he is being charged for it now that he is taking part in politics. Nevertheless, he said that he will keep expressing his opinions, since he doesn’t see it as for his own benefit alone but for the good of the country.

Piyabutr is required to report to the police every 7 days – a condition his lawyer Kritsadang said is unusual, since he came to meet the inquiry officer as required by the summons, and that such condition is unprecedented. Kritsadang also said that the condition was proposed by Deputy Metropolitan Police Chief Maj Gen Piya Tawichai.

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