Online clothing vendor sentenced to 6 years in prison for royal defamation

A 32-year-old online clothing vendor has been sentenced to 6 years in prison for royal defamation stemming from a 2021 share of three Facebook posts about the government’s Covid-19 vaccine policy, police corruption and calls for monarchy reform. He has been denied bail and is now detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison.

Jirawat (Photo from TLHR)

Jirawat (last name withheld), 32, was charged with royal defamation for sharing three Facebook posts between January – March 2021. One of the posts, from the anti-monarchy Facebook page KTUK – Konthai Uk, stated that the Thai government was unable to import good Covid-19 vaccines because it did not join the World Health Organisation’s COVAX programme. It also noted that King Vajiralongkorn held shares in the only company licensed to produce a Covid-19 vaccine in Thailand.

The second post, from another Facebook user, contained pictures of 4 official documents and Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome holding pieces of paper. Captions alluded to police corruption, bribe-taking and the possibility that a signature on one of the document was Queen Suthida’s.

The third post contained a transcript of a speech given by activist Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon during a 24 March 2021 protest. In the speech, she said that people must be able to praise and criticise the monarchy, both because it is their fundamental right to do so and because, as friends of the monarchy, they should be able to reprimand an individual king if he does not behave appropriately.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Jirawat said that the complaint against him was filed by Pattarawan Khumma, a relative of his wife who used to work for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA). Jirawat stated that Pattarawan and his wife had a fight before the complaint was filed, leading him to suspect that she was using the royal defamation law to harass him for personal reasons.

Under cross-examination, Pattarawan admitted that she is related to Jirawat’s wife but refused to answer questions about the fight.

Jirawat acknowledged sharing the posts, but testified that he did not add any messages to them. He also added in his defence that while the posts criticised the government and raised questions about the monarchy, citizens have the constitutional right and freedom to express opinions on such matter.

TLHR said that, on Wednesday (6 December), the South Bangkok Criminal Court found Jirawat guilty of royal defamation, sentencing him to 3 years in prison for each post. His 9 year sentence was later reduced to 6 years.

The court ruled that the posts damaged the people’s faith in the monarchy by causing people to misunderstand that the King, the main shareholder in the Siam Bioscience company, was seeking to monopolise the local market for Covid-19 vaccine by delaying vaccine procurement from overseas.

During witness examination, Apiporn Pasawat, Siam Bioscience’s board president, testified that King Vajiralongkorn was the majority shareholder in the company, with Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol and Pol Col Thumnithi Wanichthanom holding 1 share each. Apiporn also testified that he contacted AstraZeneca with the help of a former colleague at the Siam Cement Group (SCG) and secured a license to produce the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. He initially denied that the Thai government ordered vaccine from Siam Bioscience.

However, under cross-examination, Apiporn stated that Air Chief Marshal Satitpong signed a Covid-19 vaccine purchase contract with the Ministry of Public Health, but only as a witness. He also admitted that Siam Bioscience had never produced a vaccine before the pandemic and said that the company received 600 million baht from the Thai government in support.

Finally, he acknowledged that the company made a profit from vaccine production, with its shareholders, including the King, receiving dividends.

The second post was held to have damaged the reputation of Queen Suthida by suggesting that she was involved in the appointment and transfer of police officers.

As for the third post, the court ruled that Patsaravalee’s speech was insulting and disrespectful to the King, damaging people’s faith in the monarchy because it claimed that the King was expanding his powers and not acting in accordance with the Constitution by interfering in government affairs and the judicial system as well as by transferring property and military units to himself.

Jirawat’s lawyer filed for bail. His request was forwarded to the Appeal Court, which ruled today (8 December) to deny him bail on the ground that he is a flight risk. It also said that his offence damaged the monarchy and the democratic regime with the King as the head of state.

Jirawat's detention brought the number of people detained pending trial or appeal on a royal defamation charge to 15.

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