Tattoo artist sentenced to jail over graffiti

A Chiang Mai tattoo artist has been sentenced to 2 years in prison and a fine of 60,000 baht for destruction of public property after he drew a number of political graffiti on traffic signs and light poles across Chiang Mai city.

Peungboon Jaiyen

Peungboon Jaiyen, 35, is a Chiang Mai-based tattoo artist who used to be a competitive skateboarder. He often participated in pro-democracy protests during the past two years, joining other Chiang Mai artists in creating political satire artwork. On 20 November 2020, police officers from Muang Chiang Mai Police Station called him and asked him to meet, but when he went to the police station, officers presented an arrest warrant and detained him.

The officers then informed him that he was being charged with destruction of public property over a number of political graffiti drawn onto at least 14 traffic signs and light poles in Chiang Mai city. He was then released on bail.

Thai Lawyers for Human Right (TLHR) reported that Puengboon told the court during witness examination that the graffiti was a form of artistic expression, and that it does not constitute destruction of property because all the writing can be erased. He also said that he placed his graffiti so that it does not interfere with symbols and messages on the traffic signs, and that “prathet thuai” (ประเทศทวย) means “Our country,” since “thuai” means “group.”

However, the Chiang Mai Provincial Court ruled that he was guilty because a number of prosecution witnesses said that the graffiti changed the message on the traffic signs, and that the signs were damaged after municipality employees used paint thinner to erase them. The Court also said that, even if the graffiti could be erased, Puengboon is still guilty because temporary depreciation of value is still an offense. Nevertheless, the Court ruled that, because the prosecution did not say when each graffiti was written, and because the light poles were not damaged, he was guilty on only 1 count of the charge.

The Court on Tuesday (2 August) sentenced Puengboon to 2 years in prison and a fine of 60,000 baht, but because he gave useful testimony, his sentence was reduced to 1 years and 4 months in prison and a fine of 40,000 baht. His prison sentence is suspended for 2 years, and he must be on probation for 1 year. He must also perform 48 hours of community service involving cleaning and repairing traffic signs or other public property in Chiang Mai city.

The Court told Puengboon that he could do additional community service instead of paying the fine or ask for a 30-day period to find money to pay for it. He later decided to pay 39,500 baht for the fine, which was reduced by 500 baht since he was detained at the court’s detention room for a time on the day of the hearing. His fine was covered by the Will of the People Fund, which covers bail and fines for those prosecuted for participating in the pro-democracy movement.

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