On 22 May 2023, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that the Court of Appeal reversed the verdict in a case involving an expression of opinion about the death of King Rama VIII. The court deemed that the offence was a violation of the royal defamation law even if it involved a king who has passed away.
On 2 June 2020, 29-year-old Wuthiphat (pseudonym) expressed an opinion in the Facebook group ‘Royalist Marketplace’, questioning the death penalty passed against three defendants over the death of King Rama VIII without being found guilty.
The Samut Prakan Provincial Court originally dismissed the royal defamation charge, saying the law protects only the King, the Queen, the Heir-Apparent, or the Regent who currently hold those positions. Even if Wuthiphat’s opinions were deemed to refer also to King Rama IX on the death of his predecessor, at the time of the Facebook post, King Rama IX had passed away. The Court ruled that the case lacked the elements of royal defamation.
Wuthiphat was charged only with a computer-related crime, resulting in a sentence of eight months in jail.
This case stirred controversy over whether the royal defamation law protects previous kings or not.
On 21 July 2022, the prosecution filed an appeal, saying that insulting only one royal family member can have an impact on national security and insulting a previous king can affect the reigning king.
On 25 October 2022, the defendant filed a counter-appeal. The defendant’s lawyer argued that under the principle of equality before the law, the law and the state have no responsibility to provide special protection to those who no longer hold a position.
Law professors said the 2017 Constitution prescribes the King as Head of State. Therefore, the interpretation of ‘king’ should not include deceased kings.
However, on 27 April 2023, the Court of Appeal reversed the verdict, saying that insulting a deceased king affects the public’s emotions which may lead to the dissatisfaction of the people and affect national security. The Court also stated that Wuthiphat confessed to using impolite words which is considered malicious intent towards the king.
Wuthiphat was found guilty of royal defamation and computer-related crime. However, since both laws were violated by the same offence, the sentence was based only on the law with the heavier penalty. Wuthiphat was therefore sentenced to five years in prison. However, due to his helpful testimony, the penalty was reduced to three years and four months.