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The Ubon Ratchathani Provincial Court yesterday (7 February) dismissed a royal defamation charge filed against a 21-year-old graphic designer over a protest sign on the grounds that the message on the sign does not constitute an offense under the royal defamation law.

Kittiphon (last name withheld), a 21-year-old activist and graphic designer, was charged with royal defamation for holding a sign saying “I’m starving during the reign of King Rama X” during a “car mob” protest on 15 August 2021 in Ubon Ratchathani, which called for better economic policies and Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

When indicting Kittiphon, the public prosecutor said that he insulted King Vajiralongkorn by posing with the sign in front of a portrait of the King, making people understand that that the King did not reign over the country well to the point that citizens have to live in poverty. The public prosecutor said that this is false since the King is not responsible for the country’s administration and is above politics.

Kiitiphon’s defence was that the sign did not refer to the King as an individual but to a period of time, and that he was talking about himself because he lost his job during the Covid-19 pandemic when the restaurant he worked for closed down.

Kittiphon also said that he did not intend to pose with the sign in front of the King’s portrait, since he was walking with the sign around the protest. He said that he stood in front of the portrait for less than 2 minutes and moved after a police officer asked him to.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said yesterday (7 February) that the Ubon Ratchathani Provincial Court dismissed charges against Kittiphon. The Court ruled that, although the language used on the sign is inappropriate, it is not defamatory towards the King because the sentence can be interpreted to refer to either the period of the reign of King Rama X or the King himself.

The Court also noted that it is a common understanding that the King has no executive power and that the government is responsible for the country's administration.

Kittiphon is among the few royal defamation defendants acquitted in court. TLHR said that, since November 2020, 122 royal defamation cases have gone to trial and received a verdict. Of the 67 cases where the defendant pleaded guilty, only 19 were acquitted. 

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