Cover illustration by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)

Man sentenced to three years in prison over clip questioning monarchy’s role

A 38-year-old man has been sentenced to three years in prison on a royal defamation charge for sharing a YouTube video clip along with a caption questioning the role of the monarchy.

Teepagorn, a 38-year-old massage therapist, was charged with royal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act for sharing a YouTube video clip about public money budgeted for palace-related expenditure along with the caption Why do we have kings? The people of the land are the generous ones …”

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that around 10 police officers from a local police station and the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) searched Teepagorns house on 13 August 2021. He was briefly shown the search warrant but did not get the chance to read it before the search began. The police tried to confiscate every computer in the house, including several which did not belong to the defendant, but Teepagorn and his family refused. In the end, they confiscated his phone and had him give them the passwords to his email and Facebook accounts.  This was done without a court order as required by the Computer Crimes Act.

According to Teepagorn, the officers initially had him show them his Facebook profile.  When they apparently failed to find what they were looking for, they asked for his Facebook password. When he told them he could not remember it, the officers made him reset his password so they could access his account. Teepagorn expressed concern that as all of the officers searching his house knew the password, any one of them could have edited his posts.

The officers reportedly had him sign screen capture images from his Facebook profile page along with a confession that he posted the material, without informing him that these documents would be used as evidence.   In addition, he was asked to sign a consent form for the police to access information on his phone.

The public prosecutor indicted him on the grounds that the video clip, which contained a picture of King Vajiralongkorn with a red line across it, and its caption defamed and disrespected the King in an intentional effort to destroy the monarchy and damage national security.

During witness examination, Teepagorn testified that he shared the clip so he could find it again later, as the shop he worked in was closing. With respect to the caption, he explained that he was not trying to overthrow the constitutional monarchy but rather wanted to draw attention to the role of the institution and express the idea that the country has been built by and belongs to all of the people, who share equal rights and liberties.

On Monday (19 June), Teepagorn was found guilty and sentenced to 3 years in prison. The Court ruled that he intended to promote hatred of the monarchy by spreading the falsehood that people built the country while kings did little more than use taxpayersmoney.

In the ruling, the Court said that Teepagorn is educated enough to tell facts from lies and capable of researching about what the monarchy had done for the country, noting that he was old enough to have witnessed royal accomplishments under the reign of King Bhumibol.

TLHR reports that the judge had correction officers handcuff Teepagorn before reading the verdict.

Teepagorns lawyer filed for bail, but the request was forwarded to the Appeal Court, which will take several days to issue a ruling. He was taken to be detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison.

TLHR said yesterday (22 June) tha the Appeal Court rejected Teepagorn's bail request on the ground that his charges carry a severe penalty and because his offence damage the monarchy's reputation and the people's feeling. The Court also said that it believes he is likely to commit other offences if released. 

In an interview with TLHR, Teepagorn said that he was not prepared to be prosecuted and when charged, did not know what he had done. He said that the lawyers he knew would not take his case, telling him that he would lose. He also said that he felt it was unfair that several of the prosecution witnesses, including an academic from Thammasat Universitys Lampang campus and a member of a royalist group which had launched at least 50 royal defamation campaigns against people, were politically biased.

Teepagorn feels that there is no neutrality when it comes to royal defamation trials.  He also believes that the offended party should be the only one allowed to file a complaint for otherwise, the law can be used for harassment.   At present, anyone can file a complaint and the police are obliged to investigate.

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