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The Appeal Court ruled yesterday (17 October) not to lift the ban on Rap Against Dictatorship (RAD)’s song “Reform,” claiming that the song incites people to express their opinion without respect for the law and may upset royalists.

The song was released in November 2020. In January 2021, it was blocked on YouTube’s Thai domain due to a “legal complaint from the government.” After learning that the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) had filed a request for a court order banning the video because its content damages national security, RAD decided to challenge the ban on the grounds that the court order was issued without summoning band members for a hearing so that they could defend themselves. The request filed by MDES also did not say how the song violates the law.

The Criminal Court initially revoked the original order and summoned band members for a hearing. On 7 July 2022, it ruled to block the song due to its liberal use of profanities and because it contains inappropriate mentions of King Vajiralongkorn and then-Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha. The Court also said that many comments on the video page are about the monarchy and this affects the feelings of the majority in society.

Rapper Dechathorn Bumrungmuang, a member of the band, filed an appeal on the grounds that the Criminal Court did not say exactly how the language used in the song is profane and that there is nothing in the song that is an offence under the Thai Criminal Code. The ban also challenges the court ruling that an exercise of freedom must not affect other people, especially someone respected by most of the society on the grounds that limitations on rights and freedoms can only be done when absolutely necessary.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said yesterday (17 October) that the Appeal Court upheld the ruling made by the Criminal Court, refusing to lift the ban on the song on the grounds that the song intends to incite people who “hate the country” to express their opinion without respect for the law, and that it could lead to conflict in the country as its content may upset royalists. The court also said that limiting rights and freedoms can be done to “preserve peace in the country.”

TLHR said the judges presiding over the case are Suphot Inthiwon, Akhom Siyaphai, and Somphong Thitisuriyarak.

“Reform” reached 300,000 views on YouTube within 9 hours of its release and had over 9 million views when it was blocked. The music video features footage from pro-democracy protests in 2020, including the 16 October 2020 crackdown on the protest at the Pathumwan intersection and the 8 November 2020 protest at the Grand Palace, when water cannon were fired at protesters. The first two versions of the music video were banned on YouTube, and it has now been re-uploaded to the band’s YouTube channel for a third time.

The song itself raises questions about state-linked information operations, legal prosecutions of protesters using sedition charges, media censorship, use of taxpayers’ money, and the demands of the pro-democracy movement.

RAD is best known for rap songs about the current political situation and social issues in Thailand. In November 2018, their song “Prathet Ku Mi” (“Which is My Country”) quickly went viral for talking frankly of the political and social problems plaguing Thailand. As a result, the NCPO regime threatened RAD with legal prosecution. The band became a frequent guest on the stage of pro-democracy protests in 2020, leading to the prosecution of some of its members.

In May 2019, RAD was named one of the three winners of the 2019 Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, which was presented on 29 May 2019 at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

Dechathorn intends to continue challenging the ban and will file an appeal with the Supreme Court. He said that he disagrees with the Appeal Court’s ruling, including its interpretation of some verses as referring to the King. His lawyer also insisted that people’s rights and freedom should not be limited unless absolutely necessary.

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