Mentally ill man indicted on royal defamation charge

The public prosecutor in Ubon Ratchathani has decided to indict a 32-year-old man on a royal defamation charge for destroying a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn, despite pleas that the man is mentally ill, hallucinating, and was not aware of his own actions.

Taem (yellow shirt) holding hands with his mother (Photo from TLHR)

Taem (pseudonym), 32, was arrested by the police in Trakan Phuetphon District, Ubon Ratchathani, on 6 November 2021. He later confessed to damaging to portraits of King Vajiralongkorn at various locations around the district.

The police originally charged him with destruction of property and did not charge him with royal defamation, as the police believe he did not intend to defame the King due to his mental illness, which was confirmed by his medical record and the testimonies of his mother and their village chief.

On 12 January 2022, however, the inquiry officer summoned Taem to Trakan Phuetphon Police Station and charged him with royal defamation. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that although the inquiry officer did not charge Taem with royal defamation, when the case file reached the Provincial Police Region 3 headquarters, the inquiry officer was ordered to charge him with royal defamation, since destroying the portraits was “highly inappropriate” and an insult against the King.
Taem denied the charge and testified that he did not intend to destroy the portraits. He said he was hallucinating at the time, so he did not see that they were the King’s portraits. He saw that they were black signs and heard voices commanding him to destroying them. He also said that he pays respect to a portrait of the King he has at home every day and would not have destroyed the portraits if he knew what they were.

Taem said that he is receiving treatment at Prasrimahabhodi Psychiatric Hospital. He has shown symptoms of mental illness since he was assaulted while a Navy conscript. Around 2 months before he was discharged, an officer hit him with a weapon on the left side of his head. He lost consciousness and has an indentation in his skull. After he was treated for his injuries, he began experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations, and sometimes he would destroy objects, so he needed continuous psychiatric treatment.

Taem said he had stopped taking his medications around 2 months before his arrest because he thought his illness had gone. On 6 November 2021, he drank a small amount of alcohol before driving his motorcycle out of his house, intending to find work. He then said that he saw several black signs and heard praying and a voice in his head commanding him to destroy the objects in front of him.

2 months before the public prosecutor decided to indict him, Taem’s lawyers filed a petition asking the public prosecutor not to indict him on the royal defamation charge because his actions do not constitute an offense under the royal defamation law as they were done against an object and not defamatory. The lawyers cited a previous ruling by a court in Khon Kaen, which dismissed a royal defamation charge against 6 men charged for burning down an arch built in honour of the King on the ground that the defendants only intend to destroy the arch, which belonged to the Hin Tang Subdistrict Administration, and while the defendants were guilty of arson, their action did not constitute an offense under the royal defamation law.

The petition also said that the inquiry officer calling Taem’s action “highly inappropriate” and defamatory does not follow the text of the law and is an interpretation of the law which goes beyond its intention, which would be unjust and damage the judicial process.

Nevertheless, the public prosecutor insisted on indicting Taem. citing Section 6 of the 2017 Constitution, which states that “the King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated,” and stating that Taem’s action is disrespectful to the King.

Taem was later granted bail with a 90,000-baht security with no additional conditions.

According to TLHR, at least 10 people with mental illness have been charged with royal defamation since the 2014 military coup. Of this number, 6 were sentenced to prison, even though the law allows courts to dismiss charges or give lighter sentences to mentally ill defendants since they may not be able to understand the legality or illegality of their actions. 

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