A file photo of Weha Saenchonchanasuek. (Sorce: Ginger cat)

Activist who mocked court verdict gets lèse majesté charge

Police filed a fresh charge of royal defamation against a monarchy critic who took a swipe at a recent court ruling, a civil rights lawyer group said, while a politician faced a criminal complaint for referencing the political crisis in Sri Lanka. 

Weha Saenchonchanasuek, 37, visited the police’s cybercrime division on Monday to acknowledge and contest the charge, according to a report released by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. The attorneys said it’s Weha’s third count of royal defamation; the complaint was lodged to the police by an online group of hardline monarchy supporters. 

Weha was released after questioning without having to post any bail, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights added. The activist was imprisoned for nearly 100 days in a pretrial detention on previous charges of lèse majesté earlier this year, before the court granted him bail release in June. 

Royal defamation, or lèse majesté, is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. 

According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Weha was slapped with the latest royal defamation charge after he posted about a court verdict in March that sentenced a man named Narin to 3 years in jail for placing a sticker on a public portrait of King Vajiralongkorn. The court said Narin’s act amounted to showing disrespect to the monarch, since the sticker depicted the logo of a Facebook group known for satirizing the Royal Family. 

Narin, in a Guy Fawkes mask, flashes a 3-finger salute in front of a police station. (Source: ilaw)

In an online post, Weha reportedly wrote sarcastic remarks about the verdict, arguing that if royal pictures are considered sacred and inviolable, he would proceed to dispose of all of the portraits from public view, away from any further sticker-posting degradation.

The Thai Lawyer for Human Rights said Weha also posted a photo of himself standing next to the empty frame of a King Vajiralongkorn portrait at an undisclosed location, prompting the charge. 

The group noted that at least 205 people have been charged with lèse majesté since November 2020, when the authorities began to employ the royal insult law aggressively in response to the street protests calling for reforms of the monarchy at the time. 

On Wednesday, a group of campaigners petitioned the United Nations office in Bangkok to urge its human rights commissioner to look into the widespread use of the royal defamation charge and jailings of activists. 

One of the petitioners, Pakkavadee Veerapaspong, said there were currently 23 people behind bars in Thailand for charges or offenses related to their political affiliation. She called on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to remind the Thai government of its obligation to international treaties on rights to fair trial and freedom of expression. 

Political dissidents continue to face legal backlash for their public campaigns and online remarks critical of the authorities. Just this Tuesday, a hardline pro-monarchy activist filed criminal complaints against former Pheu Thai MP Tossaporn Srirak, accusing him of sedition. 

The complaint urged the police to launch an investigation of Tossaporn for his Facebook post, which poses the rhetorical question, “Do you want it like the UK or Sri Lanka?” 

Tossaporn further explained that the British Prime Minister was recently forced to resign, while Sri Lanka’s president had to flee the country amid massive protests. 

The royalist who filed the complaint, Sonthiya Sawasdee, told reporters that Tossaporn’s words could be construed as calling for unlawful insurrection against PM Prayut and his government. 

Sonthiya Sawasdee shows a printed Tossaporn's post.

It is unclear whether the police have formally taken any action against Tossaporn, who frequently participates in pro-democracy protests. 

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