Writer sues Culture Ministry for stripping him of his status as National Artist

Writer Suchart Sawatsri filed a lawsuit on Thursday (14 October) against the National Culture Commission (NCC) and the Ministry of Culture for stripping him of his national artist status, reportedly due to social media posts he made about the monarchy.

Suchart Sawatsri speaking to reporters at the Administrative Court on 14 October (Picture from Voice TV)

A lawyer from the Human Right Lawyers Alliance, which is providing legal assistance for Suchart, said that the writer is suing the NCC and the Ministry of Culture to have them revoke the order stripping him of his status. His lawsuit seeks compensation of 1.12 million baht, as the order violates his human dignity and freedom of expression, and damages his personal reputation, and requests the court to issue a temporary injunction and have the NCC returns all benefits and honours of a national artist to Suchart until the court issue a verdict.

The lawyer said that the lawsuit was filed because the order removing Suchart’s national artist status was unlawful, as the NCC issued the order without a legal reason, and did not allow Suchart to appeal before the resolution was reached. The NCC also did not give a clear reason for the order, only claiming that Suchart made inappropriate social media posts about the monarchy, but did not detail what the posts said and when they were made. When they requested information from the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry also told them that the information can’t be released as the NCC must first be consulted, and they still do not know which posts were offensive.

Suchart said that he is suing the NCC and the Ministry of Culture “to take back my humanity, and to say that the freedom to express my opinion is not an embarrassment and political dissent is not a crime.”

On 19 August 2021, the NCC held a secret meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, during which they agreed to strip Suchart of his national artist status. A letter delivered to Suchart, dated on 30 August 2021, stated that the reason for the resolution was that he regularly posts about controversial issues on his Facebook account, and that the posts contain “words or images which are dangerous to the monarchy,” which is inappropriate for a national artist and goes against Thai culture.

Suchart is the first national artist to be stripped of their status since the criteria for becoming a national artist were changed in May 2020.

Writing under the pen name “Sing Sanam Luang,” Suchart, now 76 years old, is known for his novels and for founding the Cho Karaket award for short fiction. He is also known as the editor of literary journals and magazines. He was named a national artist in literature in 2011.

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