Activist arrested for graffiti on the wall of the Emerald Buddha Temple

A 25-year-old activist was arrested on Tuesday (28 March) for spray-painting an anarchist symbol and the number 112 with a strike through it, signifying a protest against the royal defamation law, onto the wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, located within the Grand Palace.

Bang-oen was tackled by police officers after he sprayed graffiti onto the Wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Bang-oen (pseudonym), 25, was tackled by police officers and detained while spraying the graffiti onto the wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha at around 17.40 on Tuesday (28 March). He was initially taken to the Royal Palace Police Station but later moved to the Metropolitan Police Division 6 Headquarters.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that their lawyer was not allowed to see Bang-oen until around 21.20. Meanwhile, a crowd formed in front of the Metropolitan Police Division 6 Headquarters. Police officers also said that lawyers will only be allowed to see the detainee once permission has been granted by their commanding officer.

After a lawyer was allowed to see Bang-oen, TLHR said that his phone was confiscated by the police, and that he has some injuries to his face because he was tackled and held to the ground by the officers who arrested him.

He was charged with damaging a historic site and vandalizing a wall in a public place and was detained overnight. He was taken to court on Wednesday morning (29 March) for a temporary detention request and later granted bail on a 50,000-baht security and given the condition that he must not repeat his offence as he has previously committed similar offence.

The crowd at the Metropolitan Police Division 6 headquarters, where Bang-oen was detained last night.

Bang-oen is a political artist from Khon Kaen. As a child, he joined his father at the Red Shirt protests, and in 2020 – 2021, he joined pro-democracy protests both in Bangkok and in Khon Kaen.

Earlier in 2023, Bang-oen was detained by police officers, who did not present any warrant or inform him of his rights, and taken to Muang Khon Kaen Police Station. TLHR said he was forced to delete pictures of his artwork from his Facebook page and that officers threatened him, saying that his work defames the monarchy and he can be arrested at any time. They also told him not to make art about the monarchy again.

Bang-oen's arrest (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Under the Act on Ancient Monuments, Antiques, Objects of Art, and National Museums, the charge Bang-oen is facing carries a prison sentence of up to 7 years, or a fine of up to 700,000 baht, or both.

Under the Public Cleanliness Act, vandalizing a wall in a public place or that is next to a public road carries a fine of up to 5000 baht.

Questions have however been raised since Bang-oen’s arrest about whether the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace can be considered historic sites under the Act on Ancient Monuments. An article in Way Magazine speculated that it is likely that neither can now be considered historic sites or public property, as under the 2018 Crown Property Act, they are now the property of the King. 

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