Former protest leader gets suspended sentence for royal defamation

Former protest leader Shinawat Chankrajang has been sentenced to prison for royal defamation following a protest demanding the right to bail for political detainees. The court later suspended the sentence for two years and imposed a probation order.

On 7 December, the South Bangkok Criminal Court delivered its verdict in the case of activist Shinawat “Bright” Chankrajang, who was indicted under the royal defamation law and the Computer-Related Crime Act, and for using a sound amplifier without permission, while demanding the right to bail for two detained activists, Netiporn Sanesangkhom and Natthanit Duangmusit, at the South Bangkok Criminal Court on 28 July 2022, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

The complaint was filed by Anon Klinkaew, leader of the ultra-royalist group People’s Centre to Protect the Monarchy. The allegation stemmed from Shinawat’s speech where he addressed the transfer and reversion of the crown property assets to the ownership of the King during the tenure of the former PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and the transfer of military units to come under royal command. He also called for the release of all political detainees.

Following the first witness examinations, Shinawat decided to plead guilty. The court ordered probation officers to investigate before presenting the verdict on 7 December.

The court concluded that Shinawat was guilty under the royal defamation law and the Computer-Related Crime Act, and of the offence of using a sound amplifier without permission, which constituted multiple offences for a single act. Sentencing was based on the law with the heaviest penalty, resulting in three years in prison. He was also fined 200 baht for unauthorised use of a sound amplifier. Due to his guilty plea, the penalty was reduced to one year and six months and a 100 baht fine.

However, the court noted that Shinawat has never been imprisoned and he has also participated in various social service activities. Therefore, the sentence was suspended for two years, during which time he will be on probation. He is required to report to probation officers three times per year and to perform 24 hours of social service. Shinawat is also prohibited from committing the same offence.

The case is Shinawat’s first royal defamation charge. He was remanded in custody for 26 days during the inquiry stage before the appeal court granted bail.

Shinawat has been charged under the royal defamation law in a total of 7 cases, with 6 cases currently pending. Among these cases is a charge stemming from a speech he gave during a protest at the Lat Phrao intersection on 2 December 2020, for which he has pleaded guilty. The court will present its verdict on 13 December.

Shinawat was formerly a leader of the pro-democracy Rasadon group, which protested against the government led by Prayut Chan-o-cha. He later turned to support the United Thai Nation Party linked with Prayut by helping its candidate to campaign for the general election in May.

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