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A 23-year-old man has been sentenced to 3 years in prison on a royal defamation charge for criticizing the monarchy in a post made in a Facebook group in October 2020.

Sutthithep (Photo by iLaw)

Sutthithep (last name withheld), 23, was charged with royal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act for a post he made in a public Facebook group called “Free People” on 14 October 2020. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the post said that “If insulting royalty or criticizing royalty sends me to hell, then fine. I’ll go to hell,” followed by a message criticising the monarchy. The public prosecutor said that the content of the post defamed the monarchy and damages national security, therefore constituting an offense under the royal defamation law and the Computer Crimes Act.

The complaint against Sutthithep was filed by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES). It is among the 11 cases where the MDES filed royal defamation complaints against activists, protesters, and members of the public for political expression on social media.

Sutthithep was arrested on 9 April 2021 at a shopping mall in Bangkok’s Raminthra area on an arrest warrant issued by the Criminal Court. He was taken to the Technology Crime Suppression Division headquarters and was detained at Thung Song Hong Police Station overnight before being taken to court for a temporary detention request the next day. He was then released on bail using a 90,000-baht security with the condition that he must not use social media to defame anyone.

The Criminal Court on Tuesday (8 November) found him guilty and sentenced him to 3 years in prison, but reduced his sentence to 1 year and 6 months because he confessed. The Court did not suspend his sentence due to a report from the probation officer that Sutthithep posted criticism of the monarchy on social media after one of his friends was injured in a clash between officers and protesters gathering on the route of a royal motorcade. The Court therefore saw his action as intending to cause a misunderstanding about the King, damage his reputation, and cause the people to lose faith in him.

He was later granted bail in order to appeal the case with an additional security of 10,000 baht, bringing his bail security to 100,000 baht. His security was covered by the Will of the People Fund, a bail fund for people prosecuted for participating in the pro-democracy movement.

Sutthithep told iLaw in an interview ahead of his sentencing that he lost his job two weeks after he was arrested. He said that after he told his employer why he was arrested, he was fired. His employer did not say that he was fired because he was charged with royal defamation, but said that it was because he damaged the company’s reputation and so did not pass his probation period.

During a witness examination hearing in September 2022, Sutthithep decided to confess to the charges. He said that he was ready to face his sentence because he lives alone and has no family, but said he is worried about his cat, an orange and white former stray which he rescued and named “Phu Kong” (“Captain”), because there is no one he could leave the cat with.

In August 2021, he was working as a volunteer delivering medicine to people who are in isolation because they tested positive for Covid-19. After the volunteer group was disbanded in May 2022, he joined the activist group Nonthaburi New Generation Network and has been helping the group gather signatures for a petition to repeal the royal defamation law.

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