Two students from Chiang Mai University (CMU) have been found guilty of royal defamation and violation of the 1979 Flag Act for an art installation piece exhibited at an event in March 2021.
Yotsunthon Ruttapradid (left) and Siwanchali Withayaseriwat (right)
Siwanchali ‘Ramil’ Withayaseriwat, formerly known as Withaya Khlangnin, and Yotsunthon Ruttapradid were charged with royal defamation and violation of the 1979 Flag Act for an art installation piece they exhibited during a 14 March 2021 protest at the university. It featured a mannequin wrapped in plastic in the middle of two red and white strips. The complaint was filed by Srisuwan Janya, Secretary-General of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, a man known as Thailand’s ‘complainer-in-chief’ for filing numerous complaints against activists and politicians.
The installation piece was also shown during an event on 25 March 2021, when students from the Faculty of Fine Arts gathered in front of the University’s Office of Strategy Management to demand an explanation from University and Faculty management for an incident on 22 March 2021, when the Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts and several other faculty personnel, claiming that some student art projects might violate the law, attempted to remove the pieces from the Media Arts and Design Department building without first informing the students.
The police said that messages written on the art piece by participants in the 14 March 2021 protest insulted the monarchy. The piece, which looked like a Thai flag without the blue stripe representing the monarchy, was taken to mean that the artist did not wish for the monarchy to exist in the country.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that the Chiang Mai Provincial Court today (28 August) found them guilty of royal defamation and sentenced them to 4 years in prison. The Court also sentenced them to 8 months in prison and fined them 2000 baht each for violating the Flag Act.
According to the Court, the piece was similar enough to the national flag to cause misunderstandings.
It ruled that, by using a colour scheme similar to a Thai national flag without the blue stripe and by holding the piece up as the National Anthem was played, they defamed the King, showing that they did not want the monarchy to be represented on the flag. The Court added that the defendants should have anticipated that some of the protest messages written on the piece would insult the King.
Because they gave useful testimony and are students who have never been sentenced to prison, the Court reduced their sentences to a total of 3 years and 6 months in prison and a fine of 1500 baht each. Their sentence was suspended for 3 years . Instead, they are required to report to a probation officer 8 times over the next two years.