A 26-year-old man has been found guilty and sentenced to 2 years in prison on a royal defamation charge for selling a rubber duck calendar, after the Taling Chan Criminal Court ruled that the depiction of the rubber duck was a mockery of the King.
Giant inflatable rubber ducks were brought to the 17 November 2020 protest at the parliament complex. The yellow duck became a resistance symbol after protesters use them to block water cannon blasts.
Tonmai (pseudonym), 26, was arrested on 31 December 2020 and charged with royal defamation for selling a calendar depicting yellow inflatable rubber ducks. The police conducted a sting operation, posing as a potential buyer and ordering a calendar on Facebook and asking to have it delivered by a Grab rider. Officers then tracked the location until they located Tonmai’s residence and requested a search warrant. After searching his house and confiscating the calendar, the police arrested him and charged him with royal defamation on the grounds that the content of the calendar mocks King Vajiralongkorn.
The yellow inflatable rubber duck emerged as a symbol of the pro-democracy movement following a protest on 17 November 2020, during which protesters were met with tear gas and water cannon. Protesters gathering at the Kiak Kai intersection used inflatable paddling pools in the form of yellow rubber ducks, initially brought in as a mockery of the government and nicknamed “the navy,” as shields against water cannon blasts. The yellow rubber duck then became a symbol of resistance, appearing in several subsequent protests in 2020, and was given pseudo-royal titles by protesters.
During the witness examination hearing, which took place in October – November 2022, the defendant testified that the yellow duck is a character named Krommaluang Kiakkai Ratsadonborirak (Prince/Princess Kiakkai, the People’s Protector), which is a name given to the duck by some netizens, and the calendar did not mention the King or other members of the royal family. Tonmai also testified that he did not produce the calendar and only delivered them.
Sawatree Suksri, lecturer at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Law, also testified that parody does not constitute an offense under the royal defamation law, since the law specifically refers to defamation and threat.
Activist Sombat Boonngamanong testified that the yellow duck is seen as a symbol of protection for the protesters, and does not refer to the King. Although the language used in the calendar is the same as that used for royalty, Sombat said that it has also been used in fiction where appropriate for a character’s status.
An officer from the Metropolitan Police who investigated the case testified as a prosecution witness and said under cross-examination that he was aware that rubber ducks were a symbol of the protesters after they were used as shields during the 17 November 2020 protest, and that the duck does not represent the King.
Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, lecturer at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, also testified as an expert witness for the prosecution. He said that he saw the duck as representing the King and that the calendar is meant to show that the King uses taxpayer money for his own sexual gain, that he controls the military, and is above executive, legislative, and judicial powers.
When shown a picture from the March calendar, Chaiyan said he saw the duck with a condom on top of its head as meaning that the King is obsessed with sex or that he is promoting the use of condoms, but because he has never seen the King participating in any such campaign, he believes that the image is intending to mock the King as being sex-obsessed.
Under cross-examination, Chaiyan noted that he is aware that a yellow rubber duck is a common item and that many images of the duck in the calendar represent crowd control police. He also agreed that the ducks were represented in many roles, and that the image of the duck flying a plane with the message “Super VIP” cannot be taken to refer to the King unless it is interpreted together with the March calendar.
On Tuesday (7 March), the Taling Chan Criminal Court found Tonmai guilty of royal defamation on the grounds that it believes the duck represented the King and is intended as mockery. It sentenced him to 3 years in prison, but reduced his sentence to 2 years because he gave useful testimony. He was later granted bail to appeal the case.