On 10 November, the Constitutional Court ruled that the calls for monarchy reform and monarchy-related activities organized by Anon Nampa, Panussaya Sitthijirawattanakul, Panupong Jadnok and associated organizations were, are and will be abuse of constitutional rights and liberties as they are intended to ‘overthrow’ the democratic form of government with the King as Head of State.
The Court member read the ruling.
The complaint was filed by lawyer Natthaporn Toprayoon, who accused 8 activists who spoke at the 3 August and 10 August 2020 demonstrations of attempting to overthrow the “democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State,” as stated in Section 49 of the 2017 Constitution.
The Court ruled that Anon's speech and Panussaya's statement at the 10 August 2020 protest, and their participation in the protests afterward and other symbolic actions have the hidden intention of overthrowing the regime, which would cause public disorder and unrest in society.
Activities cited by the Court are part of Anon’s speech at the 10 August protest and the full statement read by Panussaya at the same event, which the Court recounted in full, and symbolic actions at many protests such as burning the King’s portrait and removing the blue stripe representing the monarchy from the Thai national flag.
The Court stated that the people’s constitutional rights and liberties come with the responsibility to protect the democratic regime with the monarch as its head. The word ‘overthrow’ can be inferred from actions that cause a serious threat to the constitution and regime in a decisive and irreversible manner that completely obliterates them.
The ruling continued by saying that exercising rights and liberties in public to call for a constitutional amendment regarding the status of the monarch or amendment of Section 112 of the Criminal Code (the royal defamation law) will diminish the respected status of the monarchy, which leads to unrest that affects public order and morality when people follow these practices.
The monarchy has existed and been cherished by the Thai people as an essential institution in governing and leading the armed forces in Thailand since the days of Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and the current Rattanakosin era, despite changes of regime, ruled the Court.
Thus, the actions of Anon, Panussaya and Panupong constitute an abuse of rights and liberties in order to overthrow the democratic form of government with the King as Head of State and the Court ordered that they and their network organizations stop such actions in the future.
A mock-up of the democracy consumed by fire.
Upon hearing the Court’s comment, the supporters of the pro-democracy activists in the front of the Court reacted with fury. Papers were scattered and a mock-up of the democracy monument was burned before the group dispersed.
Landmark case to the reform movement
The Court’s decision raises questions over the direction and legal risks of the pro-democracy movement which has been calling for political and monarchy reform since its sudden surge in July 2020.
After the judgement was made, Yingcheep Atchanont, manager of iLaw, a legal watchdog NGO, told Prachatai that it is still unclear about what counts as prohibited actions and the network organizations of Anon, Panussaya and Panupong.
Yingcheep said the judgement may be used by those who hold the movement in contempt to prevent po-democracy activities. It would also be unthinkable for the protest organizers not to hold protests against the ruling. Because of these uncertainties, this ruling will exacerbate tensions within society.
In an interview with the STANDARD, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a former law academic and secretary-general of the Progressive Movement, said the ruling affects Thai society in 3 ways.
Firstly, the ruling’s broad interpretation of the law has closed the door for those who want to reform the monarchy.
Secondly, the ruling prohibits many acts, both those which have been done and those not done. This will allow those who oppose proposals for monarchy reform to flood the courts with petitions similar to the one today. Civil society organizations and political parties that rally for the amendment or abolition of the royal defamation law might be affected by this.
Thirdly, this order to gag people will not bring about reconciliation between those who think differently. It will exacerbate tensions between the old and the new generations who have different ideas about the monarchy.
“If you don’t want to enter the red zone, then don’t do it. Don’t speak. Don’t touch. Don’t do anything. Then, you will be in the safe zone. Your party won’t be disbanded. Your MPs can stay. Criminal charges won’t touch you. In public rallies, you mustn’t speak about this. Just talk about ousting Prayut. Don’t speak about these [monarchy] issues and you will be safe.”
Thalufah, a protest group, published a statement after the ruling, saying that Thai and global citizens should not accept the ruling. Criticism of individuals under the same constitution are constitutional.
“We insist and affirm that, according to the constitution, “Thailand is ruled by a democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State,” and in fact the monarch is only the “Head of State” [and] should not establish himself as a “regime of government” in this way.
“For the Constitutional Court to rule in this way is tantamount to their admitting that this country is governed by an absolute monarchy, not a democracy as is written in the constitution! And today’s ruling is a distortion of ‘what is written in the constitution’,” read the statement.
No testimony from the accused
The complaint was originally filed against Anon Nampa, Panupong Jadnok, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Parit Chiwarak, Jutatip Sirikhan, Siripatchara Jungthirapanich, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, and Atittaya Pornprom. The Court later accepted the complaint against Anon, Panusaya, and Panupong, but dismissed the complaint against the remaining 5 activists.
Leaflets with messages are thrown into the Court's premises.
The Court decided that only Anon, Panussaya and Panupong were involved in the 3 August and 10 August 2020 actions stated in the petition.
Natthaporn, a staunch royalist, is a former advisor to the Chief Ombudsman and has previously acted as a lawyer for the PAD, the Thai Patriots Network and other right-wing groups. In June 2019, he filed a similar complaint against the now-dissolved Future Forward Party (FFP), claiming that the party was linked to the Illuminati, a fictitious secret organization believed by conspiracy theorists to be seeking world domination. The Constitutional Court ruled to acquit the party in January 2020, citing insufficient evidence.
A similar complaint was also filed on 2 September 2020 by former Palang Pracharath Party MP candidate Sonthiya Sawasdee, who accused activists and protesters participating in the 18 July and 10 August 2020 demonstrations of attempting to “use their rights or liberties to overthrow the democratic regime with the monarch as Head of State.”
The Constitutional Court later ordered him to provide more evidence before deciding whether to accept the complaint. Sonthiya then submitted an addendum to the complaint on 28 September 2020 specifying that his complaint is against Parit, Panusaya, Anon, and Panupong, and adding information about the 19-20 September 2020 protests at Sanam Luang. Nevertheless, the Court dismissed the complaint, citing insufficient evidence.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) stated that, despite a request by lawyers for the three activists for them to be summoned for an inquiry along with several other witnesses to give them the opportunity to defend themselves, the ruling was made without examining witnesses and based only on the complaint itself, the objection to the complaint, and documents that the Court requested from the Office of the Attorney General, Khlong Luang Police Station, the Royal Thai Police, the National Security Office, the National Intelligence Agency, and Thammasat University.
The Court then ordered the inquiry concluded, claiming that it has enough evidence to issue a ruling.
TLHR also said that, in addition to the three activists themselves, they had requested that several academics be summoned as witnesses. They had planned to summon historians Nithi Eoseewong and Charnvit Kasetsiri to testify on Thai political history, and legal scholar Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang to argue that the activists’ actions do not qualify as using their rights and liberties to overthrow the democratic regime with the monarch as Head of State.
They also planned to summon writer Sulak Sivarak to speak about the role of the monarchy in Thai politics and President of the 1997 Constitution Drafting Assembly Uthai Pimchaichon to speak on the intention of Section 49 of the Thai Constitution, which is modelled after the same section in the 1997 Constitution.
None of the aforementioned witnesses were given a chance to testify.