Programmer convicted of royal defamation for shouting at royal motorcade

A 26-year-old programmer charged with royal defamation for shouting at a royal motorcade has been found guilty and sentenced to 1 year and 8 months in prison. He has now been released on bail pending appeal.

Atirut (Photo by iLaw)

Atirut (last name withheld), 26, was charged with royal defamation and resisting arrest for refusing to sit down and shouting “Going anywhere is a burden” as King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida’s royal motorcade passed a crowd gathered at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre (QSNCC) on 15 October 2022.

At an event organized by iLaw on Monday (11 December), Atirut said he did not go to the QSNCC intending to protest but was only visiting the Book Fair. He said that, before the incident, plainclothes officers surrounded him for around 10 minutes. One officer also asked him if he would sit down when the royal motorcade arrived. The officers refused to identify themselves but when Atirut shouted at the motorcade, they arrested him and carried him away by his arms and legs.

He was subsequently detained in a room inside the QSNCC for an hour before being taken to Lumpini Police Station, where he was detained for two nights. The police also got a warrant to search his family home but found nothing incriminating. He noted that his family members were alarmed because they were away and only found out later that he was arrested.

 

Because he struggled to get away from the officers, the police said he had to be taken to the Police Hospital for physical examination. They first took him to the Somdet Chaopraya Institute of Psychiatry out of concern that he might have a mental illness because he resisted arrest, used force on the officers, and sat with his feet on the table while detained at the QSNCC. According to Atirut, hospital staff treated him like a psychiatric patient, tying him to a chair. They also demanded that a friend or family member come in to refuse treatment on his behalf before he could be released.

 

Atirut was indicted in January 2023. The public prosecutor claimed that what he shouted at the royal motorcade was inappropriate and insulting. They accused him of trying to make people think that the King and Queen’s visit caused problems and burdened the public, a claim that could lead to hatred of the King and Queen as well as damage their reputations. They also accused him of resisting arrest by kicking the arresting officers, causing two of them to sustain minor injuries on their arms and backs.

 

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that Atirut confessed in court to the shouting but said he did not know that the men arresting him were police officers because they were in plainclothes and he could not see their police ID cards. The officers also did not answer any of his questions or speak to him during the arrest.

 

TLHR reported today (12 December) that the South Bangkok Criminal Court found Atirut guilty of royal defamation and resisting arrest. He was initially sentenced to 3 years and 2 months in prison, a sentence that was reduced to 1 year and 8 months because he confessed.

 

The Court found him guilty because it ruled that the complain he shouted at the royal motorcade was inappropriate and that, by doing so, he falsely accused the King and Queen of causing problems for the people when they travel.

 

Atirut was later granted bail using a security of 300,000 baht. He was also prohibited from leaving the country.

 

A graduate of Thammasat University’s Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology (SIIT), Atirut said he was a regular attendant in the 2020 – 2021 pro-democracy protests, but was never a protest leader. The abduction of activist in exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit made him politically active, he said. He felt that, if someone like Wanchalearm, who was not a protest leader or a politician, could be abducted, then it could happen to anyone.

After his arrest, Atirut said he went back to work as normal. He works in a transnational company and facing a political charge had very little effect on his employment. He said colleagues who learned from social media that he had been arrested asked him about it, but no one took issue with it.

When asked if being arrested and taken to a psychiatric hospital affected his mental health, he said it did not affect him because he understands that such charges are used to wear people down so they will stop protesting. He added that other royal defamation defendants had it worse, such as Tiwagorn Withiton, who was held in a psychiatric hospital for several days. He believes not only that the law is being inappropriately used as a political tool but also mental illness. He expressed concern that others who did not have the support network he has or strong mindsets might be adversely affected by such treatment.

Atirut said that the 300,000 baht security he had to place when arrested is as high as that required from people charged with attempted murder. He also said that rulings in royal defamation trials should be made carefully, since the charge carries a prison sentence and affects a defendant’s liberty. He believes that, if rulings are to be made on a case-by-case basis, the charge should be tried in a civil court.

Atirut compared his own action to protests in the UK, where pro-republican protesters shouted at King Charles III about how they disapprove of him and the monarchy without facing prosecution. He also asked whether Thailand would ever get around to making similar improvements to its own legal system and regime.

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