The Criminal Court on Tuesday (15 March) dismissed a charge of royal defamation against writer Harit Mahaton on the grounds that it could not rely on the testimony of Maj Gen Wicharn Jodtaeng, former Chief of the NCPO’s legal office, because it is hearsay evidence.
Harit Mahaton after his release from prison in July 2016
In 2016, Harit, along with activist Natthika Worathaiwich, was accused of defaming the monarchy in a private Facebook chat message and charged with royal defamation under Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code and violation of the Computer Crime Act. The complaint against them claimed that a third party reading their message might understand that the monarchy supported the NCPO coup and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), whose protests in the lead up to the 2014 military coup called for the removal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. This constituted an insult to the monarchy and damaged national security.
The Court dismissed the charges against Harit on the grounds that Maj Gen Wicharn, who filed the complaint against Harit and Natthika, testified that he received information from a government agency but did not witness the two defendants’ action himself, so the court has to carefully discern whether the information he provided is correct, and since no one can verify the identity of the person who gathered information for the case and the plaintiff did not show the court that the offending Facebook account belongs to Harit. The court therefore ruled that evidence presented by the plaintiff is not enough to convict him.
Natthika is currently living in exile in the US, so the court has temporarily disposed of the case against her.
Harit told Voice Online that he does not intend to file charges against the officials involved in the case, as he believes that the officials were only following orders.
Harit’s lawyer Winyat Chatmontree said that the court dismissed the charges because it did not believe evidence gathered during interrogation at a military base, in which national security officers claimed Harit and Natthika disclosed their Facebook account passwords. He also said that the plaintiff could not prove to the court that they received the passwords, which affected the gathering of the chat messages as evidence. Winyat said that they proved to the court that the messages have been arranged, and an expert witness also testified on whether it is possible to edit pictures and Facebook profiles. Because of the cross-examination of the plaintiff’s witness, as well as the defendant’s evidence, the court ruled that there is no eyewitness who can confirm the events and dismissed the case.
Winyat said that the public prosecutor is going to file an appeal, and Harit is ready to defend himself, but he would like the public prosecutor to consider the defendant’s rights before doing so.
Harit and Natthika are also among the eight critics of the NCPO who were charged with sedition for allegedly running a political satire Facebook page called “We Love Gen Prayut.” Winyat said that there has been no progress in the case since hearings have been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and that witness examination will take place in September 2022.
The group were arrested in late April 2016 by military officers and detained in a military base. Harit was seized at his home in Khon Kaen on 27 April 2016 by around 20 military officers and taken to a nearby military base. His mobile phone, laptop, and passport were confiscated. Meanwhile, Natthika was arrested in the middle of the night by around 8 military officers. Her mother said that a plainclothes officer broke into their house through a window, and that after Natthika opened the door for them, the officers accused her of trying to destroy evidence before searching the house, confiscating 2 mobile phones and 2 desktop computers, and arresting Natthika.
Two days later, they were taken to the Crime Suppression Division, where lawyers and family members were not allowed to see them. They were detained there for one night before being placed in temporary detention and were detained for around 3 months before being released on bail.
Their case was initially handled by a military court, since they were arrested and charged during the NCPO government. Following the repeal of several NCPO orders in July 2019, their case was transferred to the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court.
Winyat noted that the prosecutor used the evidence obtained while Harit and Natthika were detained in a military base after they were arrested on the sedition charge, and that the two cases are being processed separately but are based on the same set of evidence.