Court orders ban on Thanathorn’s video over national security concerns

The Supreme Court has upheld an Appeal Court order to ban Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s video clip ‘Royal Vaccine: Who benefits and who doesn't?’, saying that the clip attracted several comments which may affect national security.

On 15 June 2023, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that the court delivered a verdict after Thanathorn, leader of the dissolved Future Forward Party, appealed against a court order to ban the video from his Progressive Movement’s online platforms. The video content criticizes the government’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement.

The complainant, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES), claimed that the video clip contained content that violates the royal defamation law and the Computer-Related Crime Act.

In response to a petition from MDES on 29 January 2021, a court issued an immediate order to ban the video without hearing any counterarguments. Thanathorn submitted an appeal against the order. The court conducted a new trial, providing Thanathorn with an opportunity to participate.

On 8 February 2021, the court dismissed the order and gave Thanathorn an opportunity to present counterevidence. The court said that the case ‘may affect security’ and must be interpreted strictly. Thanathorn only mentioned that King Vajiralongkorn is a shareholder of Siam Bioscience, and his words did not defame insult, or disrespect the king.

On 19 October 2021, the Appeal Court reversed the order of the Court of First Instance, saying that the video clip did affect national security.

The Court’ judgement claimed an offence relating to national security prescribed in Title I of the Criminal Code, which includes Section 112, or the royal defamation law. An order to block the video may be issued if it contains information or criticism within the scope of the law.

The Supreme Court has upheld the judgement of the Appeal Court, saying that the video clip could draw comments that may affect the monarchy. It was not necessary to consider whether the video clip was exercising freedom of speech to criticize the government’s performance or not.

On 15 June 2023, the Court found that several comments attached to the video clip which, according to the complainant, referred to King Vajiralongkorn and the use of taxpayers’ money.

The comments also criticized the monarchy’s involvement in the government’s vaccine management. These comments could potentially constitute an offence relating to national security. It was concluded that the information in the video could attract comments that may affect national security.

In 2022, Thanathorn was indicted under the royal defamation law for the same video about the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program that relied heavily on Siam Bioscience. The court granted bail with 90,000 baht as security.

The video was made at a time when the Thai government had started to look for ways to procure Covid-19 vaccines from producers around the world in parallel with a surge of infections and deaths in the kingdom. The Thai government struck a deal allowing Siam Bioscience to be the sole local producer for AstraZeneca. This provoked questions from the public.

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