Monarchy can be criticized, claims blind man who accuses other blind people of royal defamation

In a conversation with Prachatai, the President of the Blind Society Association of Thailand, who has just filed a second complaint of royal defamation against another blind person, insists that the monarchy can be criticized with proper language, reason and factual evidence. Despite sending a blind woman to jail in the past, he believes that the accused this time can adjust to prison life as it is “the same as boarding school”.  

Phatnachai Sakawi (Source: Facebook/Phatnachai Sakawi)

Not long after King Bhumibol passed away in 2016, Phatanachai Sakawi, then named Phiphatanachai, filed a charge against Nurhayati Masoh, 23, a Muslim woman who shared content critical of monarchy. The complaint led to a jail sentence of 1 year  under the Computer Crime Act, which replaced the original charge of lèse majesté.

Phatanachai has now filed another complaint against a blind person who was once his senior in school, adding to the number of problematic cases under Section 112 of the Criminal Code on royal defamation. The law carries a 3-15 year jail sentence and allows anyone to file a complaint.

What is very rare in these two cases is that both parties are blind. 

Prachatai interviewed Phatanachai again in the hope of understanding his motives and his opinions about freedom of expression regarding the monarchy.

“Life in prison is just like boarding school”

With the help of the Siri text-reader system, Phatanachai was able to read a critical comment by his senior on a Facebook post by Nipit Intarasombat, a former MP of the Democrat Party, about Queen Suthida, which he shared on Facebook. 

Unlike the past case, where he actively pushed the criminal prosecution, Phatanachai said he is not keeping track of this complaint as he and the Association are now busy supporting the blind as they are suffering heavily from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In particular, massage workers in red zones under lockdown have no income at all at this time. The Association has a project to help blind people who are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. This project gives a bag of essential items and 500 baht in cash.”

He was asked if he was concerned that the person he has accused will also suffer if he is detained in prison, where infection is widespread due to overcrowding and poor living conditions. He said:

“You ask if I am concerned. I am concerned if the detainee gets infected. But if it’s about other issues, I don’t have any concerns, because blind people can live in a normal way. It’s just that they rely on familiarity with their environment and their mobility within that space. So on that issue, I’m not worried. One more thing, that person was once a boarding school student, so being in prison is just the same as boarding school,”

The monarchy can be criticized

Phatanachai said that what people say should not infringe on the rights and liberties of others, or on public order and morality. Those who cross the line will have to take responsibility for their own actions.

During the interview, he said many times that the monarchy can be criticized, but with reason, proper language and in an academic manner.

“Section 112 is actually a normal legal matter. It is nothing special. It has no effect on people who keep quiet. If you ask me if criticism of the institution of the monarchy is possible, personally I think it is possible, according to the royal opinion that King Rama IX expressed in a royal statement,” 

“It’s just that the criticism must be made in an academic manner and discussed in academic circles.  Secondly, criticism, if it has facts, witnesses and evidence, and is not fiction, then that is alright.

“It’s just that talk should use polite and proper language because even criticism using impolite language against the US president is restricted in a similarly forceful way. I think it is normal,” 

Phatanachai may be referring to 18 US Code, Section 871, which criminalizes threats to take the life of, kidnap, or inflict bodily harm upon the US President, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer in the line of succession to the Presidency.  This is quite different from the broad and vague provisions of Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code.

“Normally, it’s not really necessary. I don’t prosecute because any warning, we tell them. Anything we cannot talk about, I follow the procedure. I think this is the duty of everyone who should help each other. If you ask for my personal opinion, today, holding rallies or political activities, I think that can be done. The reforms can also all be done, but must be talked about in a polite and proper manner, using reason to talk it out rather than resolve the problem through the use of force,”

When asked if he had warned the person he filed the complaint against or not, he said “I may not have been able to give a warning.”

Jail sentence can be reduced with ‘education’

For Phatanachai, the 3-15 year jail sentence is considered normal when compared with lèse majesté sentences elsewhere in the world of 1-7 years’ imprisonment. However, having filed charges against 2 people for this offence, he feels that the penalty is excessive because the monarchy issue is what people want to criticize.

He said the penalty can be reduced if people are taught that criticism can be made within limits.

“Everything must have a limit, not letting everything go completely until sometimes people discuss rumours without any supporting facts. I think this is not right. So if you are going to say anything, it must have facts to support it, and if there is evidence, even better. And everything must be based on the real world.”


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