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Two activists have been sentenced to prison on a royal defamation charge for allegedly burning a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn in front of the Klongprem Central Prison. They were later released on bail pending appeal.

Thanapat Kapeng (left) and Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan (right) after being released on bail. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Chaiamorn ‘Ammy’ Kaewwiboonpan, a pop singer-turned-activist, and Thanapat Kapeng, an activist from the Thalufah group, were charged with royal defamation and arson for allegedly setting fire to a portrait of King Vajiralongkorn on 28 February 2021. Chaiamorn was also charged with violation of the Computer Crimes Act for posting on Facebook a picture of the burning portrait with the caption “The media wouldn’t dare report this. A friend said that, last night, a royal portrait was torched in front of the Klongprem Prison. Give this post a ‘share’ for freedom. #Freeourfriends.”

Chaiamorn was arrested on 3 March 2021. He was subsequently denied bail and detained for 69 days before being released on bail. Thanapat was later summoned to report to the police.

After his indictment, Thanapat’s lawyer requested that his case be transferred to the Central Juvenile and Family Court, since he was only 18 years old at the time of the incident. The request was denied on the grounds that he was no longer a minor and was of normal physical and mental condition for his age.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said yesterday (27 May) that the Criminal Court found Chaiamorn and Thanapat guilty of all charges. Chaiamorn was sentenced to 4 years in prison, while Thanapat was sentenced to 1 year.

Noting that the two activists claimed they did not intend to defame the King, the Court ruled that setting fire to a royal portrait as a symbolic act of protest to demand release of political prisoners implied that they would burn or destroy the King himself if their demands were not met - a threat to the King and devaluation of the institution.

The Court also ruled that, by posting a picture of the burning portrait on a public Facebook profile, Chaiamorn aimed to damage the King’s reputation.

Chaiamorn and Thanapat were later granted bail pending appeal on a security of 200,000 baht and 50,000 baht respectively. 

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