The Appeal Court today (13 September) sentenced former Red Shirt protest guard Sombat Thongyoi to 4 years in prison on charges of royal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act over 3 Facebook posts he made in 2020.
The South Bangkok Criminal Court previously sentenced Sombat to 6 years in prison. The Appeal Court upheld the guilty verdict, but reduced his sentence to 4 years because he gave useful testimony.
In December 2020, Sombat was charged with royal defamation for 3 posts he made on his personal Facebook profile in October and November 2020. One of the posts carried the caption “Very brave, very good, thank you” - a sentence said by King Vajiralongkorn to a protester who raised a portrait of the late King Rama IX at a pro-democracy protest - along with a news article stating that security officers visited a Thammasat University student following reports that he and other members of his faculty had decided not to join graduation ceremony officiated by a member of the royal family.
Another post made on 2 November 2020 carried the message “They told you to reduce your budget, not lower yourself to get close to the people. Did you misunderstand something?” The post added that the person in question was trying to get close to the public because he knew they did not want him, that he was trying to gain publicity, but it was too late. The unnamed individual’s actions were described as a “soap opera.”
The third post, also made on 2 November 2020, said “They’re giving out autographs, just like celebrities.” Sarayut Sangwanthong, who filed the complaint against Sombat, claimed the latter two posts were about the King, since people waiting to greet the him and his entourage at the Equestrian Statue of King Chulalongkorn were allowed to take pictures with him and some also asked him to sign his portraits.
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the Appeal Court ruled that Sombat was mocking the King by posting “Very brave, very good, thank you” as caption to the news article. The ruling noted that he was already involved in political activism and demonstrably “anti-royal.”
The South Bangkok Criminal Court previously ruled that the first post was mockery, since the sentence accompanied the news article and Thai society considers participating in the graduation ceremony an honour. The post was interpreted as praise of the graduates’ refusal to attend the ceremony, an action the Court sees as "anti-monarchy."
As for the second post, the Court said that although Sombat claimed it was about the Prime Minister, the phrase “lowering yourself” was not used with prime ministers and there were also no reports of the Prime Minister making any field visits at the time. The Court also rejected Sombat’s defense that his third post was not about anyone in particular.
Sombat’s lawyers filed for bail, offering a security of 600,000 baht, on the grounds that he intends to file an appeal with the Supreme Court. He admitted to owning the Facebook page, but asserts that he not intend to insult the King. He has previously been granted bail because he was not deemed a flight risk. Following his earlier release, he went back to work without joining any activity that could affect the monarchy as per his bail condition.
His bail request was forwarded to the Supreme Court. He will be detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison until a ruling is made.
Sombat was previously held in detention pending appeal after the South Bangkok Criminal Court found him guilty in April 2022. He was finally granted bail on 8 February 2023, after spending 9 months in prison.
The Supreme Court ruled today (15 September) to deny Sombat bail on the grounds that he is deemed a flight risk due to the severity of his sentence.
However, TLHR noted that the Supreme Court did not deem Sombat a flight risk when it granted him bail in February 2023. He has also never miss a court appointment or break his bail condition, while the Appeal Court reduced his sentence from 6 to 4 years.