Facebook user sentenced to jail over Emerald Buddha photo edit

A Facebook user charged with royal defamation for posting a picture of King Vajiralongkorn changing the seasonal decoration of the Emerald Buddha, edited so that the Buddha is wearing a dress, has been found guilty and sentenced to 1 year and 6 months in prison.

30-year-old Warunee (last name withheld) was arrested at home in Phitsanulok on 2 December 2021 and accused of posting a picture of King Vajiralongkorn changing the Emerald Buddha’s seasonal decoration in a ceremony on 20 November 2021, edited so that the Buddha is wearing a purple ball gown with a Yorkshire terrier sitting next to the base of the Buddha, along with the message “Emerald Buddha x Sirivannavari Bangkok”.

She was charged with royal defamation under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, entering into a computer system data which is an offence relating to national security under Section 14 of the Computer Crimes Act, and insulting an object of religious worship under Section 206 of the Criminal Code.

The complaint against Warunee was filed by Nopadol Prompasit, a member of the Thailand Help Centre for Cyberbullying Victims, an online royalist group whose members have filed numerous lèse majesté charges against many netizens and activists, including Parit ChiwarakAnon Nampa, and Panusaya Sithijirawattankul.

Warunee was indicted on 24 February 2022 on the grounds that the image may lead to a misunderstanding that the King was putting a dress onto the Emerald Buddha and that there was a dog sitting next to the Buddha during the ceremony, which is false information and damages national security. The image also made fun of and insulted the King, and is disrespectful to the Emerald Buddha, an object of worship for Thai Buddhists, making the image an insult towards the religion.

The public prosecutor also noted that the dress was from a collection designed by Princess Sirivannavari, the King’s younger daughter and the only child by his second wife Sujarinee Vivacharawongse he did not disown following their divorce, for her clothing label Sirivannavari Couture.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that, today (28 June), the Criminal Court found Warunee guilty of all charges and sentenced her to 3 years in prison, but reduced her sentence to 1 year and 6 months because she confessed, saying that she committed an offence against the King, who must not be violated, and that the offence affects the people’s feeling. However, it said that her bipolar disorder is not a reason to suspend her sentence.

The Court later ruled to forward her bail request to the Appeal Court. Warunee will be detained at the Central Women Correctional Institution while waiting for a decision.

Update:

TLHR said this morning (30 June) that the Appeal Court denied Warunee's bail request because her charges carry a high penalty and it believes she will flee. She remains in detention pending appeal at the Central Women Correctional Institution.

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