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As the Criminal Court prepares to deliver a verdict in the royal defamation trial against human rights lawyer Anon Nampa next Tuesday (26 September), the South Korea-based May 18 Memorial Foundation issued a statement expressing concern about freedom of expression in Thailand.

Anon was charged with royal defamation for a speech he gave during a protest on 14 October 2020, in which he demanded the resignation of then-Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, a new constitution, and monarchy reform. Protesters marched to Government House, where they were forcibly dispersed in the early morning of 15 October after a severe State of Emergency was declared for Bangkok.  A full week of mass demonstrations across the city followed.

The police accused Anon of royal defamation, claiming that he insulted the King by saying in his speech that, if the protest were to be dispersed, it would be at the order of the King. The Ratchadapisek Criminal Court will be delivering a verdict in the trial next Tuesday (26 September).

In a Facebook post, Anon explained that he said so because he wanted to stop the police from forcibly dispersing the protesters. Due to the amount of people joining the 14 October 2020 protest, he was concerned that a crackdown would lead to loss of lives, and said that he willingly take the royal defamation charge and was proud that, as a protest leader, he did his best from stopping any loss. 

Anon said that he was able to stop the police from cracking down on the protesters during the day, and that the protest leaders ended the protest before the crackdown on 15 October. Anon himself stayed until 4.00 to make sure other protesters were able to leave before he was arrested. He said he did his best and that it was worth it if he has to go to jail.

Ahead of the court date, the May 18 Foundation, a South Korea-based foundation established to remember the spirit of democratic struggle and solidarity during the 18 May 1980 uprising in South Korea, issued a statement condemning the Thai government for oppressing the pro-democracy movement and calling for the authorities to guarantee freedom of expression.

“Anon Nampa is not a criminal, but a defender of democracy demanding democratic reform in Thailand through political and monarchy reforms,” said the statement.

“The May 18 Foundation denounces the Thai government that has consistently oppressed the pro-democracy movement of its people. The May 18 Foundation will stand in solidarity with the international communities to support Thailand’s democracy.”

The Foundation awarded Anon the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights in 2021 for his legal contributions, anti-dictatorship activism and calls for monarchy reform.

Meanwhile, the Clooney Foundation for Justice posted on Twitter that its TrialWatch project has been following the trial and has documented “how the Thai authorities have abused the lèse-majesté law to retaliate against those urging reform.” It also notes that Anon faces up to 15 years in prison.

Anon is facing a total of 14 counts of royal defamation filed against him for protest speeches and Facebook posts. Each count carries a prison sentence of 3 – 15 years.

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