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The Chiang Rai Provincial Court has dismissed charges against former activist Supreeya Jaikaew on the grounds that the message on the banner she was accused of placing did not constitute an offence under the royal defamation law.

Supreeya Jaikaew (Photo from TLHR)

Supreeya was charged with royal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act for allegedly placing a banner saying “Monarchy budget > Public relief budget” near a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn next to the King Mengrai Monument in Chiang Rai city, and for posting a picture of the banner on the Facebook page for the local activist group Free Youth CEI.

On 28 December 2023, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that the Chiang Rai Provincial Court dismissed the royal defamation charge against Supreeya on the grounds that the message on the banner criticised the government for how it allocated the annual budget and therefore was not defamatory towards the King. It noted that, although prosecution witnesses testified that the banner might lead to a misunderstanding that the King was using more money than was spent taking care of the public, an academic testifying for the prosecution said that monarchy budget does not refer to the monarchy itself.  A Thai language expert also testified that people who have not been following the political situation might not know what the banner referred to.

The Court also ruled that posting a picture of the banner was not a violation of Section 14 (2) in the Computer Crimes Act because there is no evidence proving that the message is false. It therefore gave Supreeya the benefit of the doubt and found her not guilty for violating the Computer Crimes Act.

Then a student at the Chiang Rai Rajabhat University, Supreeya was arrested on 25 February 2021. Police officers also searched her apartment and confiscated a black face mask, a black jacket and a pair of black sneakers, claiming that these items matched a CCTV footage of a person placing the banner.

TLHR noted that the police also tried to confiscate Supreeya’s mobile phone, telling her that they would not grant her bail until she gave them her phone. However, they did not have a warrant for the device. The police insisted on taking the phone without the consent of Supreeya and her lawyer, so she refused to sign the confiscation record and asked for a note to be added that she did not consent to having the police confiscate her phone and access the information on the device. She was later granted bail.

TLHR reported that, following her arrest, Supreeya’s family faced constant police surveillance. Supreeya said that, in April 2022, a group of plainclothes and uniformed police officers visited her family home in Chiang Rai and looked around the premises without presenting a warrant. She said that officers had been visiting the house several times a month, often asking her grandparents to see her or taking pictures of the house even though the police were aware she had moved to Bangkok and had her phone number.

According to Supreeya, the surveillance caused concerns in the neighbourhood and her grandparents were afraid and felt their privacy was being violated. Her grandparents have since moved to another province, but police officers have continued to visit the house, causing Supreeya and her family to feel unsafe.

During witness examination, she testified that the surveillance affected the health of her grandparents, once causing her grandmother to be admitted to a hospital. She also had to move to Bangkok and end her studies at the Chiang Rai Rajabhat University. She has since enrolled at Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok.

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