- In the context of news reports in early 2020, questions about certain agencies, street protests, parliamentary debates, the deliberations of the house budget committee, discussions, court cases, and accusations that the monarchy budget was distorted, an ‘annual budget’ discourse was created.
- Movements in parliament and the budget committee included a proposed plan by the Move Forward Party (MFP) to integrate monarchy-related projects. It was not adopted. MFP MPs assess that there are improvements from government agencies but the House is still subject to self-censorship.
- The Royal Offices adjusted the way of presenting the budget by-requesting other agencies avoid ending the names of projects with ‘in His Majesty’s honour’.
- While the Courts of Justice are still considering cases related to criticism of the monarchy-related part of the budget, there were both sentences and acquittals, which revealed the view of a law academic who testified in court that the expression ‘monarchy budget’ is not related or connected to the behaviour or action of persons holding positions protected by Section 112.
After the House of Representatives met to consider the 2024 Budget Expenditures Bill, with a resolution to approve in principle the first reading on 5 January 2024, one topic that was not discussed in the first reading was the budget related to the monarchy, or monarchy budget for short. When we look at the major budget items under this heading, such as the 8,478,383,000 baht allocated to the Royal Offices, the third edition, 17th volume of documents for the 2024 budget year contains only 8 pages of details, which is one page less than last year. Meanwhile, other agencies with budget allocations of the same level provide more information; for example, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, which was allocated around 8.8 billion baht, provided a total of 366 pages of details. There have been movements from both MPs and from outside parliament calling on the Royal Offices to give more details amidst calls for monarchy reform throughout the past 3 years.
While the House of Representatives is currently debating the second and third readings of the more than 3.48 trillion baht budget, we would like to review movements related to the monarchy budget over the past 3 years, from budget scrutiny, demands for reform and the state’s response, as well as the fight for an explanation or definition of terms.
Starting in March 2020, Prachatai published a report “2020 budget related to the monarchy revealed to be 29 billion baht” on 12 March 20, provoking a large number of readers and a wave of criticism. At that time, Prachatai explained what it called the monarchy budget:
“… The budget is divided into 2 sections. The direct expenses are those incurred directly by the monarchy, such as security, travel, and protecting the institution. The indirect expenses are those related to the monarchy, such as royal projects, royal celebration activities, and public relations work. In addition, speaking strictly, there is also a 3rd section, which includes projects which use monarchy-related names. These are defined as projects of any agency which follow the agency’s objectives, but have a name related to the monarchy and are used to celebrate and honour the monarchy, such as a project to build professional skills for 70,000 farmers who participated in the New Agriculture Project, etc…”
Earlier, the disclosure of budgets related to the monarchy focused on the Royal Offices after the 2017 Act on Administrative Organisation for the Royal Service (2560 BE) was published in the Royal Gazette on 1 May 2017 to re-organise royal administrative organisations according to His Majesty’s wishes. The Act transferred the operations, authority and duties, assets, rights, debts and budget of 5 existing agencies, i.e. the Royal Secretariat Office, Bureau of the Royal Household and Royal Thai Aide-De-Camp Department and Royal Security Command under the Ministry of Defence, and the Royal Court Security Police, to the Royal Offices. The first media outlet to speak about this section of the budget was BBC Thai, which on 9 Jun 17, published a report ‘2018 budget: “Royal Offices budget” decreased by 14% Defence increased by 4.2%.’
However, the budget related to the monarchy under the definition which includes other related agencies and mechanisms is allocated not only to the Royal Offices alone, but is also to other agencies as indicated in the objectives stated in their budget documents. These include the Central Budget, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defence, the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A process of calculation and the publication of the results then started, as mentioned above.
And then the movements started
After the monarchy budget report was published in March 2020, in June of the same year Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer, submitted a letter to Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, then Prime Minister, calling for scrutiny and explanation of the budget allocation related to the monarchy. Anon gave as a reason that there were discussions on whether the budget supporting the monarchy comes from the people’s taxes or not. After that, he was subject to a witch hunt by a royalist webpage who filed a complaint for inputting false information into a computer system. So the truth of the matter had to be found.
Activist Chonticha Jangrew and human rights lawyer Anon Nampa submitted a letter in June 2020 to Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, then Prime Minister, calling for scrutiny and explanation of the budget allocation related to the monarchy.
However, in December of the same year, the Office of the Permanent Secretary of the Prime Minister's Office, responded to Anon, stating that they have sent the matter to the Budget Bureau and Comptroller General's Department, which are responsible in the case raised by the letter addressed to the Prime Minister, to receive the information for consideration in the conduct of their duties and authority.
Anon giving a speech at the 3 August 2020 protest
Meanwhile, on 3 August 20, Anon also made a speech during the ‘casting a spell on democracy protectors’ activity at the Democracy Monument, in which he directly spoke about their demands on the monarchy for the first time in public during the wave of protests in 2020. In one part, Anon talked about the calls relating to this part of the budget, for budget allocations related to the monarchy to be systematically scrutinised. In addition to Anon, the organiser of the activity was also charged with violating Section 112, sedition under Section 116, violating the Computer-Related Crime Act, violating the Communicable Diseases Act, violating the Emergency Decree, and violating the Advertisement by Using Sound Amplifiers Control Act.
On 10 August 2021, Thammasat University students under the name United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD) held a, “Thammasat will not stand for it” activity at the Rangsit Campus with 10 demands for monarchy reform. One of the 10 demands was “reduce the national budget allocated to the monarchy in accordance with the country’s economic status.” Then the 3-fingered salute movement of the youth and people began, demanding 1. the resignation of Gen Prayut resign as Prime Minister, 2. a new constitution, and 3. monarchy reform. A complaint was submitted to the Constitutional Court and on 10 November 21 the Court ruled that the UFTD protest at Thammasat University on 10 August 21 was an attempt to overthrow the democratic form of government with the king as head of state.
Monarchy budget in the view of iLaw and Common School, looked at not as an individual but as an institution.
There were reports on the monarchy budget, other than those published by Prachatai. iLaw published an article on 3 Jan 21 which looked back at the budget over 10 years. Common School, a thinktank of the Progressive Movement, published on 22 August 22, “Details revealed of all items, all projects of budgets related to the monarchy! A total of 36.388.74 million baht” which cited Ekawit Thongdiworakun as the researcher and editor.
Boonyanooch Mattoojak, the writer of the iLaw report, explained to Prachatai in late 2022 about what she counted as the monarchy budget. She had divided the budget into 6 major frames: 1. items related to royal residences and palaces; 2. agencies close to the monarchy such as secretarial organisations like the Bureau of the Royal Household or Royal Secretariat Office before the Royal Offices were established; 3. royal travel; 4. royal security; 5. public relations; and 6. budget related to implementation of royal policies or the 904 royal volunteer projects.
iLaw’s report on the monarchy budget included information from 10 years ago. Other than increases in budget, Bunyanut said that the numbers for these 10 years may contain faults because they cover 3 different administrations. During the Abhisit Vejjajiva period, we also did not see the complete picture. In terms of numbers, during the administration of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, relatively large amounts were allocated to the monarchy budget, but the details show that some of the recipient agencies were changed, such as the public relations budget which seems to have increased during the Prayut government.
Another change in the monarchy budget during Prayut’s term of office was the transfer of agencies like the Royal Secretariat Office, the Bureau of the Royal Household, the Royal Thai Aide-de-Camp Department and the Royal Security Command which were under the Ministry of Defence, and the Royal Court Security Police under the Royal Thai Police, to the Royal Offices. This new formation of agencies under the Act on Administrative Organisation for the Royal Service meant budget is now allocated to new agencies that did not exist before. When the budget is allocated to the new agency, some budget from the previous agency also gets transferred over, resulting in an overlap in allocated budgets. For example, the Ministry of Defence may allocate an overlapping budget for royal security, even if personnel are allocated to the Royal Offices and the Royal Offices should already include the salary of these security officials, but it seems this part of the budget is still under the Ministry of Defence. When we look at the Royal Offices budgets that were submitted to the 2022 and 2023 budget committees, it can be seen that around 90% of the Royal Offices budget is the salaries of government officials.
From this, it can be understood that the Royal Offices budget includes mostly personnel salary expenses. There may be other expenses but they are small. This may result in the budget related to royal security such as expenses for procuring materials, being allocated under the Ministry of Defence, as the Royal Offices budget does not include everything.
Ekkawit, the author of the Common School monarchy budget report, also revealed to Prachatai in late 2022 what they considered as the monarchy budget. He said that anything that could not exist without reference to the Head of State, he would consider that as part of the monarchy budget. For example, a museum of valuable wood which is under construction, although not does not have an explicit name, is unavoidably related to the Head of State because of its origin. But many building projects celebrating royalty, even if royally named, he views as not related to the monarchy budget as many of these buildings would be built anyway, such as schools that would still be built even without the use of a royal name.
The author of the Common School’s monarchy budget report also indicated that in the case of “royal” irrigation projects, it would anyway no doubt be a monarchy budget item since the definition is that the project is a “policy” of the monarch, which is comparable to administration by the monarch. Claiming that it is the government itself which manages the project by following the policy of the monarch is against democratic principles. In the context of democracy, it cannot be explained, so this budget should definitely belong to the monarch. The goal is to apply the monarch’s policy, like any politician who continually uses this policy in an election campaign without attaching it to the policies of a government that was chosen by the people. This is because of the principle that the King can do no wrong, which was spoken about by King Rama IX. Any “royal” project is not just a monarchy budget item but is a budget where the monarch does not any profit from assets that the monarchy itself invested in. In the end, the monarch can do it if they use their own money, like the British monarchy has its own social projects, utilising its own budget. In Japan, there are many restrictions to the point that they can barely do anything. The rest is the budget for projects created from the concepts of royal family members, which should also be part of the monarchy budget. In another sense, if there is no monarch as head of state, then there would be no budget allocation for such things as royal decorations.
Although the criteria for counting items as part of the monarchy budget of Prachatai, MFP, iLaw and Common School may not be 100% the same, most are on the same lines, especially as they have looked at not only the individual or only the monarch but also at other relevant organs or mechanisms and networks to create the structure of the institution.
The opposition points out the distortion in the monarchy budget, creating the ‘yearly money’ discourse
There is however not just one way of understanding the resources or mechanisms of the state through the budget. There was also a counterargument, from especially Arnond Sakworawich, an academic from the Graduate School of Applied Statistics of the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) and also a member of the Thai Move Institute. He published articles in response which have been collected into a book: ‘The Monarchy: the Distorted Truth’ which was launched on 13 October 22 at an event of the same name. Arnond said that the budget was presented in a way that made it easy for people to misunderstand, and so they tried to add fuel to the fire and distort the budget of the monarchy by inventing a new discourse of ‘yearly money’ (“เงินรายปี”).
Arnond Sakworawich (right) at his book launch on 13 October 2022
The NIDA academic argued that he has never heard of the term ‘yearly money’ (“เงินรายปี”) since in Thailand there is the term ‘year money’ (“เงินปี”) or money the government gives to the monarch for personal use and provides to other royal family members. This is the same as in other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Japan. This ‘year money’ is not a lot. In addition, there is the yearly budget for any official agencies under the monarchy.
There people trying to combine the budget for the Royal Offices under the Bureau of the Royal Household, Office of the Privy Council and the Royal Security Command; all 3 agencies have around 14,000 personnel. The total budget is called “yearly money”, where there have been interpretations that it is “year money,” which is money the king uses personally. Arnond views that ‘year money’ and the budget of the Royal Offices, the Office of the Privy Council and Royal Security Command are separate budgets and must be viewed separately.
“One is for the personal use of the monarch and that is year money. The yearly budget is a matter of the national budget and the Royal Offices. To invent a new term, “yearly money,” to confuse people is the easiest way to lie – by making up a new term,” Arnond said.
In addition, Arnond said that in reality, the King and Queen have never accepted the ‘year money’ given by the government and always return all of it to the Comptroller General's Department. For all money given to other royal family members, the King uses His Majesty’s own money which has nothing to do with the government.
Arnond said that the transfer was of only 8,000 police and military personnel, which was not large enough to form a personal royal army as had been claimed. They are also the same people who served the monarchy before. This transfer of personnel concerns only manpower and does not include the transfer of any weapons or equipment.
Movements in the House of Representatives and committees, and the proposed ‘royal projects integration plan’ by the MFP that was not taken up
Another aspect are the debates in the House of Representatives, especially the role of MFP MPs and the budget committee. It started on 20 August 2020, during a budget committee meeting on the 2021 budget when it was considering the budget for the Royal Offices. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, head of the Progressive Movement, as committee adviser under the MFP quota, also posed questions asking the Budget Bureau to help explain why the budget for the Royal Offices has increased at such a high rate. A Budget Bureau official said at that time that the increase in budget was mostly for the personnel of agencies that were transferred under the Royal Decree in 2019, which transferred some personnel and budget from the army, the Thai armed forces headquarters and the Ministry of Defence, to the Royal Security Command which is part of the Royal Offices.
Bencha Saengchantra during the 1 June 2021 parliamentary debate on the budget related to the monarchy.
On 1 June 21, while the Budget Committee meeting was considering the 2022 budget, Bencha Saengchantra, Move Forward party-list MP, discussed the Bill and stated that the budget related to the monarchy in the 2022 budget totalled at least 33,712,000,000 baht, being items identified by the name of projects in the budget documents, and not including monarchy-related budget that may be hidden in construction projects valued at under 10 million baht, or other items. The budget can be divided into 5 categories: 1. preserving and celebrating the monarchy; 2. royal security; 3. Royal Offices; 4. royal projects and other monarchy-sponsored projects; 5. others such as royal cremations, royal decorations, etc.
“I would like first to stress that this 33 billion baht and more is not a problem in any way, but the issue is the product of the budget and the efficiency of the projects which should be considered carefully, appropriately, openly, transparently, correctly and accountably so that the highest benefits fall on the people, especially during these times when the economy is down due to COVID-19,” is part of what Bencha said at that time.
Bencha also proposed a new integration plan, i.e. a plan to integrate royal projects, with the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board (ORDPB) acting as the host agency in the management and prioritising of all the royal projects including those termed “royally inspired” (“อันเนื่องมาจากพระราชดำริ”) and “royal projects” (“โครงการหลวง”). There were 3 reasons for integrating management:
- To reduce reduplication in operations and prevent many agencies from crowding into any one project which may not be the main mission of each agency.
- To allow the ORDPB to prioritise the importance and urgency of each project, creating the maximum benefit for the people.
- To facilitate parliamentary scrutiny of various projects that use the name of the monarchy, to prevent ill-intentioned groups of individuals from falsely using the monarchy as a shield which will affect the honour of the monarch.
MFP MPs confirmed that combining the budget into an integrated plan will allow budget spending to be more efficient, as well as enable the people, who are the owners of the budget, to inspect the use of the budget related to the monarchy correctly, preventing any false rumours that may damage the honour of the monarch and other royal family members.
However, after Bencha proposed the integration plan, Prachatai asked about its progress in late 2022. Bencha said that the proposal aimed to establish a new integration plan for budget spending related to the monarchy, and the committee was informed that this is partly similar to receiving a royal command and there was a need to ask for comments from related agencies first. They were also told that it could not be done quickly. Bencha also proposed this kind of plan for other agencies, asking that they all combine the information. They said it may be difficult. To establish another agency for the integration plan also requires additional budget and personnel, so they were concerned about this.
However up until now, Bencha’s proposal has not been put into effect. In the House of Representatives meeting on 21 August 21 held to consider the 2022 Budget Expenditures Bill in its second and third readings, 4 MFP MPs consisting of Bencha, Rangsiman Rome, Phicharn Chaowapatanawong, and Suttawan Suban Na Ayuthaya, proposed an amendment to the Bill reducing the budget for the Royal Offices. But the House voted to pass the bill, by 337 votes in favour, 47 votes against, 3 abstentions, and 5 no votes. Thus, the Budget Bill passed as is.
Justifications of ‘traditions that have been passed down.’
Bencha talked about the reason for the debate that day. She said that in fact she had intended to start a debate the first year she was an MP since she had seen the anomaly. Even if not on the budget committee, but in issuing a new law or bill, she would see regulations in the House or bills where, once they mentioned the monarchy, there would be a rule or small detail they were forbidden to speak about. Even for House regulations, when they speak about them, when they debate them, it would be declared that speaking about the monarchy or the monarch was banned unless necessary. It started there, and became a question as to what is “necessary.” For example, in considering the constitution, then it cannot be denied that the monarchy has the status of an institution and organisation according to the constitution, which they should be able to speak about and should speak about, but in the end, they are prohibited from speaking.
In that first year during the budget bill readings, there were amendments to reduce the budget, but that year she was the only one that wanted to reduce the budget for the Royal Offices. In the first year, even though she was not able to make a speech, she requested an amendment on this particular issue. An official contacted her and asked if she had made the wrong amendment, and she confirmed that it was correct. The official explained that no one had ever amended this Section (Section 36), no one has ever reduced it, and so they asked if she had made a mistake so they can fix it for her. Bencha confirmed that it was not wrong, as she had looked at the numbers and saw that they were unreasonable. Looking back to the budget of 2018 and 2017, she had noticed the irregularities in the budget figures which had increased. It was well-known that in in early October that year, there was a Royal Decree setting out the transfer of some personnel and budget from the army. She saw this irregularity. The numbers increased, while the personnel had been transferred, so the budget should have been allocated elsewhere. For the part where the Royal Offices’ budget had increased, she was not surprised. But in other parts of the budget related to royal security, there was a big jump. She thought that this was unreasonable, so she made the amendment request, resulting in the official telling Bencha that no MP had ever wanted to amend this part of the budget, so they would like to seek her cooperation since the official did not dare to submit the amendment, as no one has ever done this before.
Bencha continued that when she asked the official what the result would be if she went ahead with the amendment, the official explained by using the expression “it is a tradition that was passed down to not reduce the budget.” At that time, she did not understand what a tradition that was passed down had to do with MPs whose duty was to scrutinise the budget. There was a long argument, and in the end the official asked for her cooperation and explained that even if she submitted the amendment, it still could not be debated since the House of Representatives would not allow discussion of this Section. So that was one observation that Bencha made where something was irregular – why is it that these budgets cannot be inspected or debated and talked about? It became the start and the first reason that made Bencha feel the need to talk about the budget, since if it was like this, there was a risk that the agency which received the budget may or may not use it correctly without the agency ever needing to explain anything. When it concerned this Section, Bencha observed that in the budget committee, when the budget was introduced, it was passed without any explanation. The Budget Bureau explained what it was used for. It was to support the monarchy’s activities, and then it passed. This happened in the first year. In the second year, Bencha thought she would have the situation in the House of Representatives such that it can scrutinize the budget as normal. There must not be a condition that it is a tradition that is passed down, and so it is forbidden to reduce the budget in certain sections. Back then there was even a saying that “it cannot be reduced by even one baht,” so Bencha felt that this part of the budget must be amended so that it can be spent transparently and accountably.
Royal Offices adjust the method of declaring their budget, asking other agencies to avoid adding ‘for His Majesty’s honour” at the end of project names.
While the budget was being considered at the committee stage, on 14 September 22, Pita Limjaroenrat, then head of the Move Forward Party, posted on his own Facebook page ‘Pita Limjaroenrat’ about the progress of the Royal Offices in their explanation during the debate on the 2023 budget. He spoke of the progress in terms of both the process and the content of the explanation. The Royal Offices had adjusted their process of explaining their budget by increasing information on the spending and personnel of each office, and had also asked government agencies to avoid adding “for His Majesty’s honour” (““เฉลิมพระเกียรติ”) to the end of project names. This explanation was an improvement on previous years, and he hoped that it will be a starting point for development.
Pita stated that progress in this process this time had involved 3 changes:
1. Additional explanatory documents were distributed to the budget committee (although there were only 3 pages with new information).
2. There was a 5-minute video to provide information and explain details, including the number of personnel in each office.
3. The Cabinet Secretary was assigned as the representative to explain the budget and answer questions from the committee. Pita also stated that committee members from the MFP told him that when they asked about this, the Cabinet Secretary as the representative had answered clearly, “We request that agencies avoid using the term “for His Majesty’s honour” in their projects, especially agencies which tend to add it to the end of project names and line items.”
- Government to spend 29 billion baht on monarchy
- 2021 budget: expenses related to the monarchy from all agencies total 37 billion baht
- 2022 Budget: expenses related to the monarchy from all agencies total 35.7 billion baht
- 2023 budget: expenses related to the monarchy from all agencies total 34.752 bn baht
There are developments from agencies, but in the House of Representatives there are efforts to self-censor
While MFP MP Bencha said that in the budget committee, when they talk about, for example, the Plant Genetic Conservation Project under the Royal Initiative, this had requested a budget in all agencies under the Armed Forces and in previous years also had a budget of this kind, but there would be no progress for us to see and barely any documents in the budget submission to show achievements. But last year there was one kind of progress in that there was a document explaining project progress, despite being very little. But it still counts as progress. Another example is the Huai Samong Project under the Royal Initiative, which had been debated in the House in 2021, the last year there were additional documents which tried to instruct the relevant agencies to carry out and finish the project quickly. This has happened repeatedly since the year it was scrutinized, together with an explanation why this project still has not been completed after 10 years, due to a contract.
“Although the explanation did not put an end to suspicions, you can say there have been improvements from before,” Bencha said, and added that even with projects with name endings like the projects ’at the royal initiative’, the agencies come in to provide explanations. The Secretariat of the Prime Minister’s Office also had agencies in the Royal Offices contact them on this matter. In the past, it was the duty of the Budget Bureau to give explanations, but this year the Secretariat had come, claiming that the Royal Offices commented that in future they may reduce the use of the terms ‘projects for royal honour’, ’royal celebration projects’, ‘projects at the royal initiative’, etc. It was an explanation from the agencies but did not say how the process of reduction will work. While this kind of explanation is also good for the committee, when agencies come to provide explanations, they will use the words of the Secretariat of the Prime Minister’s Office when they came to explain, This explanation to the agencies receiving the budget means that they will know that there is this kind of comment from the Royal Offices, and so these additions to project names must be used cautiously. This is seen as a development.
For retrograde developments after this process of budget scrutiny , Bencha said that we may still see some MPs who may not have adjusted along with these agencies, as in the end after these agencies came to explain, it was actually the MPs and committee members who were greatly concerned, especially when there was debate on this section of the budget. They would try to finish and pass it quickly. They do not want to speak about it. In the end it became the members of the House themselves who tried to block things and did even not allow livestreaming to communicate with the agencies who came to explain. However, she continues to stand by her principles and the reasons to support discussion of these issues.
However, for the supporting documents from the Royal Offices, there are fewer than 10 pages. Bencha confirmed that in the end there is still nothing. When compared to other agencies that proposed budgets of around 7,000-8,000 million baht, their documentation must explain the expenses and details, including results. Even salaries must have details.
As regards the Plant Genetic Conservation Project under the Royal Initiation of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the Rabies-Free Animals and Human Safety Project under the Auspices of HRH Princess Chulabhorn and the TO BE NUMBER ONE Project, where the budget is distributed as subsidies to various agencies, when the agencies receiving the budget came to provide an explanation to the committee, as to whether the projects overall had achieved anything or not, Bencha said that it was noticeable again that there was no documentation of results to look at, despite efforts every year to ask for them. Most of the time, they received no documents, and since they were projects with names ending in “royal”, there were no details.
Bencha said that the Royal Offices did not come to explain. Last year, it was the Budget Bureau that had given explanations. The most recent year was a little special as the Office of the Secretariat of the Prime Minister had come and referred to the Royal Offices having commented that the use of royal names in projects must be done more carefully, which is only an oral explanation, while other agencies that received a budget will themselves come to provide an explanation.
In Court, there are both sentences and dismissals
Other than arguments on social networks and meetings of the House or the committee, there is the verdict of the Constitutional Court on the movement and demands of the UFTD, where one the 10 demands for monarchy reform talked about reforming the monarchy budget. The Court ruled that this was an action which aims to overthrow the democratic form of government with the King as Head of State. There is still a struggle in the Court of Justice in the cases against those who criticised issues related to the monarchy budget, who are charged with violation of Section 112, or the lèse-majesté law. We will present 3 of the most interesting cases, where the Court passed sentence on 1 and dismissed 2 others.
In the first case where the defendant posted about the monarchy budget,’ the defendant was Meechai, a 51-year-old farmer from Chanthaburi, who was prosecuted for defamation of the King under Section 112 of the Criminal Code and Section 14 (3) of the Computer-Related Crime Act, for posting 2 messages on his Facebook page, questioning the use of the people’s taxes by the monarchy. The Court of Appeal sentenced the defendant to 2 years and 8 months in prison on 27 Sep 23. Meechai was charged by the state prosecution for 2 offences:
- First, because of the message “In my personal opinion, the monarchy does not need to use the people’s taxes because the monarch already has many monopoly businesses.”
- Second, because of the message “The people give 20-30 billion baht to the monarchy each year. What does the monarch give to the people?”
Both messages were posted during May 2020. The Court of First Instance passed sentence on 18 July 22 (according to a report by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights). Interestingly, ‘monarchy budget’ in the Court’s opinion, was not completely for personal use but is distributed to various agencies, ministries, and royal projects to develop the lives of the people. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic in mainstream media there were reports that the monarchy had donated vehicles to help those in need due to the pandemic. Thus, the message is false and causes a loss of honour for the monarchy, since the monarch carried out royal missions and donated money to the people.
Meechai insists that he had spoken only about the monarchy budget and did not specify any one individual. He had also studied Section 112 to see which message falls under it and which does not, and has always been careful about expressing his opinions. He thinks that the messages he posted did not defame or show malice towards the monarchy or crown prince, but the Court considered otherwise. He was rather surprised, and continued to assert that it was his intention to criticise in good faith.
A banner saying “monarchy budget > COVID19 vaccine” seen hanging near Ratsada Phisek Bridge in Lampang on 30 December 2020.
In 2 other cases of speaking about the monarchy budget were dismissed. In the first case, the Lampang Provincial Court dismissed the case against 5 students and other civilians on 31 Jan 23, for hanging up a cloth banner with the words “monarchy budget > COVID19 vaccine” near Ratsada Phisek Bridge on 30 Dec 2020. They faced charges under Section 112 of the Criminal Code and for violation of the Cleanliness Act. The Court viewed that the message did not defame, insult or threaten the monarch, and only the first defendant was penalised with a fine of 5,000 baht for violating the Cleanliness Act.
Another dismissed case concerns the expression of opinion of a similar kind. On 28 December 2023, the Chiang Rai Provincial Court acquitted Supriya Chaikaeo, former activist in Chiang Rai and Pheu Thai team member, of violating Section 112, and Section 14 (2) of the Computer-Related Crime Act, after she displayed a cloth banner with the expression “monarchy budget > people’s relief budget” at the King Mengrai Monument intersection in Chiang Rai town, on 4 January 2021.
In this case, the Court viewed that the core of the message “monarchy budget > people’s relief budget” is a criticism of the national budget, and does not appear to defame, insult or threaten the monarch, and that the administration of the national budget is the duty of the government and not the monarch. The message therefore is not a slander or defamation of the monarch.
Although there were prosecution police witnesses and lawyers testifying that the message was precariously close breaking the law, as it made people understand that the monarch spends extravagantly more than the budget used to look after the people, or that the message on the banner is inappropriate as it may create the understanding that the monarch spends more than the budget used to relieve the people. Overall it was seen that the message may cause misunderstandings.
However, a witness for the prosecution, a lecturer from the Faculty of Law, expressed the opinion that the message may not be an offence as the monarchy budget does not mean the monarch. The Criminal Code must be interpreted strictly. In addition, a prosecution witness, an expert in Thai language, testified that the interpretation of the words depends on the background knowledge of each individual. If the reader did not follow politics, they would not understand what the message means. The Court viewed that the prosecution witnesses were split into 2 groups; one that saw the defendants as guilty and the other as not guilty. The interpretation must be objective, not subjective according to the personal opinion of each individual. This was not sufficient reason for this to be a violation of Section 112