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A 24-year-old protester charged with royal defamation for wearing Thai traditional dress at a mock fashion show during a protest on Silom Road on 29 October 2020 has been sentenced to 3 years in prison for an offence against the Queen.

Jatuporn Sae-Ung (Photo by Ginger Cat)

On 14 September, the Court of Appeal has allowed her bail with 300,000 baht securities.

Jatuporn Sae-Ung was charged with royal defamation, violations of the Public Assembly Act, the Emergency Decree, and the Communicable Diseases Act, and using a sound amplifier without permission. She was accused of insulting the Queen by wearing a Thai traditional dress to participate in the “Ratsadorn Catwalk” fashion show, staged at the 29 October 2020 protest, a gesture seen as mockery of the royal family.

The complaint against her was filed by Waritsanun Sribawornthanakit, the owner of a pro-establishment Facebook page who also filed a complaint against Noppasin Treelayapewat, a 17-year-old protester, for wearing a black crop top to the same event with the message “My father’s name is Mana, not Vajiralongkorn” written on his back.

Because Noppasin is still a minor, his case is being handled by the Central Juvenile and Family Court. His sentencing date has not been set.

The ”Ratsadorn Catwalk” took place after it was reported that the Ministry of Commerce received a 13-million baht budget for the overseas exhibition of new products by the Sirivannavari brand, a fashion label owned by the King’s younger daughter, Princess Sirivannavari.

The 29 October 2020 protest took place on the same day that Sirivannavari’s new collection was being launched at the nearby Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Although there were no speeches, protesters participated in the fashion show, performed, and exhibited artwork to support monarchy reform.

The South Bangkok Criminal Court today (12 September) found Jatuporn guilty of royal defamation and violation of the Public Assembly Act and sentenced her to 3 years in prison and a fine of 1,500 baht. It then reduced her sentence to 2 years in prison and a fine of 1,000 baht because she gave useful testimony.

The court order sentencing Jatuporn was signed by judge Watanaphon Chaimani.

Weeranan Huadsri, Jatuporn’s lawyer, said that the Court saw Jatuporn’s action as premeditated, because Jatuporn and Noppasin made preparations before joining the protest, and so it ruled that they intended to mock the King and Queen and damage the royal family’s reputation.

Weeranan noted that the judge ordered all observers to leave the courtroom, claiming that this was the court’s Covid-19 prevention measure, but did not order the proceedings to be carried out in secret. Only Jatuporn’s partner and her guarantor were allowed to remain.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that Jatuporn’s lawyer requested bail for her in order to file an appeal using a 300,000-baht security. However, the court forwarded her bail request to the Appeal Court, so Jatuporn will be held at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution until the Appeal Court rules whether to grant her bail or not.

Before she was sentenced, Jatuporn told TLHR in an interview that she was prepared to be imprisoned, because she had seen news reports of other people being found guilty.

The charges against her have disrupted her life. She has had to travel back and forth between Buriram and Bangkok to meet the public prosecutor, and many times she has had to travel to sign a single document, or just to hear that the meeting has been postponed. She is also unemployed, as she often has to travel to meet the public prosecutor or go to court and can’t work full time.

“An employer wants someone who can work full time, which I can’t do because I’m caught up with the case,” she said. “On this, I understand them. This is why I am unemployed right now.”

Jatuporn said she was formerly a royalist, and that she was taught by both her family and school to love the late King Bhumibol. After his death in 2016, Jatuporn got a tattoo of the number “9” in Thai as a symbol of her loyalty, but since being charged with royal defamation, she added three red lines over the original tattoo.

“How do you judge whether someone does or doesn’t love the monarchy?” Jatuporn asked. She said that being charged has made her feel like it’s no longer possible to love or respect the monarchy.

“I want the monarchy to think carefully about who damages the monarchy more; people calling for reform or those who hold up pictures and go around beating up other people?” 

Jatuporn said that she felt the court proceedings were not very fair, noting that it was unclear whether notes could be taken during hearings and that she wanted to be able to take notes on things that may have benefited her case. She also wanted to tell the plaintiff that she just wanted to wear a traditional dress because the event was a fashion show, and she does not often have the chance to wear national dress.

“I didn’t want to be anyone. I just wanted to be myself in a traditional dress, that’s all,” she said.

Following Jatuporn’s sentencing, Amnesty International Thailand issued a statement calling her sentence “a chilling prelude of what’s to come,” as at least 210 people have been charged with royal defamation since the start of the pro-democracy protests in 2020, and called on the authorities to drop charges against participants in peaceful protests and release those arbitrarily detained.

“The mock fashion show was a satirical take on the political situation of the country – a peaceful public event akin to a street festival with music, food, and dancing. Participants should not be punished for participating in a peaceful assembly,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Secretary General Kyle Ward.

“With protests picking up again in Thailand, this latest conviction underlines the degree to which Thai authorities continue to repress peaceful dissent.

“Thai authorities are obliged to protect the peaceful exercise of the rights to expression and assembly, but they instead continue to pursue criminal proceedings against demonstrators, many of them young people or even children. These young protesters should be free to express their opinions and participate in discussions in society, and should not face the prospect of unwarranted prison sentences and criminal records.”

Note: Prachatai updated the news with information about her bail on 14 September 2022.

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