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The Appeal Court has sentenced Phonchai Wimonsuphawong, 38, to 2 years in prison for royal defamation and violation of the Computer-Related Crime Act over a Facebook post from October 2020.

Phonchai Wimonsuphawong (Photo from iLaw)

Phonchai was charged after a complaint was filed against him with the police in Yala’s Bannang Sata District by Watcharin Niwatsawat, a member of an ultra-royalist group. Watcharin accused Phonchai of royal defamation in 4 Facebook posts made in October – November 2020, including a video clip about monarchy reform.

The Yala Provincial Court previously found Phonchai guilty of royal defamation and violation of the Computer-Related Crime Act for the video clip, but dismissed the remaining counts of the charges relating to 2 other posts. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison, reduced to 2 because he gave useful testimony.

The Court ruled that because the content of the video clip implies that the King is not politically neutral, it is insulting and can cause doubt among the public, whereas the King is inviolable and therefore above all criticism.

Phonchai filed an appeal. However, the Appeal Court ruled yesterday (4 October) to uphold the Yala Provincial Court’s ruling, sentencing him to 2 years in prison.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the Appeal Court ruled that criticism of the King damages national security and can cause disorder in the society, and because Section 6 of the Constitution states that the King is held in a position of “revered worship” and cannot be violated, even criticism made in good faith is an offence.

Phonchai was later granted bail pending an appeal to the Supreme Court on a security of 112,500 baht. TLHR noted that the Yala Provincial Court granted him bail without forwarding his bail request to the Supreme Court, and he was released almost immediately after his sentencing.

The 38-year-old comes from an indigenous Karen community in Mae Hong Son’s Mae La Noi District. After leaving home as a teenager, Phonchai worked in a restaurant in Chiang Mai in exchange for food and accommodation. He then decided to move to Bangkok to find work. He said in an interview with TLHR that he spent around a year homeless before getting a job as a security guard. Before he was charged, he had been working as a salesman, going from house to house selling mobile phones or helping real estate agents.

In addition to 5 other charges from joining protests in Bangkok, he is facing royal defamation charges filed against him in Yala and in Chiang Mai, and since he lives and work in Bangkok, having to go to court have been difficult for him, as he lost time he could have been working, and it cost him a considerable amount of money.

In March 2023, the Chiang Mai Provincial Court found Phonchai guilty of royal defamation, sedition, and violation of the Computer-Related Crime Act for 4 Facebook posts made between 18 October and 19 November 2020. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and was detained pending appeal for several days before being released.

This complaint against him was filed by Jessada Thunkeaw, a former protest guard for the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), who accused Phonchai of 4 Facebook posts about the King’s involvement in politics and inviting people to join protests. However, Phonchai said that he did not make the posts, as his Facebook account was stolen at the time.

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