Human rights lawyer and activist Anon Nampa has been found guilty of royal defamation and sentenced to 4 years in prison for a speech he gave during a protest on 14 October 2020. He is now detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison while the Appeal Court considers his bail request.
Anon Nampa speaking at the 14 October 2020 protest
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.
For his role as a leader of the protest, Anon was charged with violation of the Public Assembly Act, the Emergency Decree, the Public Cleanliness Act and the Land Traffic Act, using a sound amplifier without permission, blocking a public road, and destruction of property. He was the only leader of the 14 October 2020 protest to be charged with royal defamation for a speech given during the protest.
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 can only be at the order of the King.
Anon testified during the trial that a large number of people joined the protest and he was concerned that the police would forcibly disperse them. He noted that a group of protesters who gathering at the Democracy Monument on 13 October 2020 to wait for the mass protest the next day had already been dispersed by police, who arrested protest leaders and injured several protesters. He had reportedly also been told by a police officer that the protesters would be forcibly dispersed if the protest was not called off. He said that as a protest leader, he felt it was his responsibility to prevent loss of life, adding that he gave his speech with the sole intention of stopping a crackdown. He also told the court that he did not mention the monarchy at any other point during the protest and that protest demands were directed at the government and Gen Prayut.
The Ratchadapisek Criminal Court today (26 September) found Anon guilty of royal defamation and sentenced him to 4 years in prison. It also found him guilty of violating the Emergency Decree and fined him 20,000 baht. The rest of the charges were dismissed.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) noted that representatives of the Embassies of Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland were observing the trial, along with MPs from the Move Forward Party and representatives of human rights organizations, including iLaw, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
At the court this morning (26 September), Anon said that the youth-led movement has changed the country so much that it would never be the same. He noted that people now believe in equality and are ready to change the country, adding that online discussions, street protests and the results of the last general election make it clear that people in many sectors now support democracy.
Anon thanked his supporters and promised to keep fighting from prison if he has to. He also said he expects to be brought to court often as he is still representing activists charged for participating in protests and that the fight is not over, no matter what the court rules.
He added that it is worth it if he has to go to jail for trying to prevent a crackdown on the 14 October 2020 protest as no protesters were killed during the march to Government House.
Anon is facing a total of 14 counts of royal defamation filed against him for protest speeches and Facebook posts about monarchy reform. Each count carries a prison sentence of 3 – 15 years.
The Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) issued a statement yesterday (25 September) ahead of Anon’s court date calling for the right to bail. It was signed by 137 civil society groups, activists, academics, lawyers, and members of the public. The statement noted an alarming trend of refusing bail for activists found guilty by the Court of First Instance on charges relating to pro-democracy protests. Their bail requests have often been forwarded to the Appeal Court, and they have been held in custody while waiting a ruling. The Appeal Court, in turn, has increasing denied bail, on the grounds that the individuals arrested are flight risks - unlikely in that most activist facing charges are not at risk of lengthy prison sentences.
The President of the Supreme Court has also previously issue a regulation saying that the Court of First Instance may grant bail to anyone given a prison sentence of less than 5 years who has never previously been sentenced to prison, has been granted bail by the Court of First Instance and the Appeal Court, and is not a flight risk or a danger to others. Under this regulation, there is no need for the Court of First Instance to forward the defendant’s bail request to the Appeal Court or the Supreme Court.
The statement said that Anon is a lawyer working to protect the rights of those going through the judicial process, that he believes in the justice system and is willing to prove his own beliefs through the judicial process as a defendant. Despite being denied bail several times, he has never been a flight risk even after being detained pending trial for 7 months.
HRLA and supporters of its statement believe that, given Anon’s ideals, dignity, and behaviour, he wants to exercise his right to fight the charges but will accept the final verdict, even if he is out on bail. They called on the presiding judge, the Chief Justice of the Criminal Court, and the judge responsible for hearing his bail request to remember that every defendant must be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that Anon and other activists facing political charges cannot be treated as guilty without a final verdict. They demanded that Anon be granted bail, noting that the justice system should not restrict freedom of expression but work instead to protect the rights of the accused.
Anon’s lawyers requested bail, offering a security of 200,000 baht. The bail request noted that Anon has never violated his bail condition and has never had his bail in this particular case revoked, so he should not be seen as a flight risk. His sentence is less than 5 years, therefore he should be allowed bail so he could appeal his charges, and there is no need for the request to be forwarded to the Appeal Court. He also has an 8-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son, as well as elderly parents to care for, and his imprisonment would have adverse effects on his parents and children.
Nevertheless, the Court ruled to forward his bail request to the Appeal Court. He will be detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison until a ruling is made granting him bail. The order was signed by judge Parinya Sitaposa.
Anon’s lawyers have also requested that the Appeal Court hold a bail hearing before making a ruling.
Other than Anon, 8 people are detained pending trial or appeal on a royal defamation charge: Wut, Wayha Saenchonchanasuk, Teepagorn, Warunee, Wat, Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, Udom, and Sombat Thongyoi.