28 April 2022, 9 AM – the Bangkok South Criminal Court read the verdict for the case of “Sombat Thongyoi”, a former red shirt guard accused of “royal insult” under section 112 of the Penal Code and section 14 of the Computer Crime Act for posting the caption “#verybrave #verygood #thankyou” to a screenshot of a Matichon news article on 30 October 2020 about the move of Thammasat University students from an entire faculty refusing to attend the graduation ceremony. He also posted two other comments related to the King’s attempt to be close to the people and the signing of autographs on 2 May 2020.
At 9:20 AM, Sombat arrived at Courtroom 502 of the Bangkok South Criminal Court to attend the reading. To observe were iLaw staff, officers from the Embassy of Luxembourg, and a number of university students.
Before the judges arrived, the court officer informed that due to Covid-19 pandemic, people who were not parties to the dispute should wait in front of the courtroom. However, if they wished to observe the trial, they had to show an ATK result done within three days before entering. Otherwise, they could also purchase an ATK kits from the court. As such, after showing the court officer their results, the observers were permitted to the courtroom.
At 10 AM, Pattana Wongmetta and Chayanit Apichartbut, judges assigned to the case, began reading the verdict starting with the plaint of the plaintiff’s public prosecutor. It then concluded that the text “#verybrave #verygood #thankyou”, which was a remark made by the King Rama X on 23 October 2020 complimenting Thitiwat Thanakarun, the man who raised the portrait of King Rama IX and the former Queen amid Kana Ratsadon protesters, was substantially a compliment, and not an insult or defamation. Instead, the Court had to consider the intention.
Since the defendant posted the text “#verybrave #verygood #thankyou” to accompany a screenshot of a Matichon news article, which roughly talked about “the security force met with Thammasat University students whose entire faculty refused to attend the graduation ceremony”. It was a commonly known fact that the King Rama X handed out certificates to Thammasat University students in the said ceremony, while Thai society viewed it as an honorable and prestigious occasion. The defendant’s post was understood to be intended to praise the graduates who refused to attend it using the King Rama X’s speech.
Hence, the defendant’s act was considered a mockery and ridicule, which was inappropriate and offensive, and considered an insult and a defamation against the King. The fact that the defendant claimed that he had merely followed a viral trend on social media without being aware that it was the King’s speech was not reasonable because both the plaintiff and defendant testified during the witness hearing that the remark “#verybrave #verygood #thankyou” was addressed by the King Rama 10 to Thitiwat. The event was also widely reported by the media.
The second text, “He was asked to lower the expenditure budget, not lower himself to be close to people. Have you misunderstood anything? Lowering yourself to be close to people like that clearly shows that you are aware that people do not like you. If you are sincere, you would have done it a long time ago, not doing it now to regain popularity. However, it is probably really too late. This is soap opera!”, was posted by the defendant on 2 November 2020 after the King Rama X had performed the Chulalongkorn Memorial Day ceremony on 23 October 2020.
Although the defendant claimed that the said post was intended to criticize Prayuth’s government for wasteful spending and ineffective management, which led to decreased popularity prompting the government to send MPs and ministers to the field to regain popularity, the court deliberated and established that during the time of posting there was no evidence suggesting that any ministers of MPs carry out field visits.
In addition, the defendant used the word “lower oneself”, which, according to the Royal Institute Dictionary, meant being humble and modest and was not used with an MP or minister. Concurrently, the Kana Ratsadon protesters were holding speeches demanding a reduction of the royal budget. Hence, the said post alluded to monarchy’s spending, which was false and not regarded as criticism in good faith, but an insult, depreciation, and defamation against the King.
As for the text, “there were also autographs. What a celebrity!” posted by the defendant on 2 November 2020, the Court believed that the defendant was referring to the King Rama X, as the post was shared one day after the King Rama X’s visit to change the costume of the Emerald Buddha and later sign autographs on 1 November 2020. The court thus found the defendant’s testimony explaining that the remark did not specifically address anyone unfounded and unreasonable.
The Court ruled that the defendant was guilty of section 112 of the Penal Code and Section 14 (1) (3) of the Computer Crime Act and passed an imprisonment sentence of 3-year-term for each of the two counts, total 6 years.
After reading the verdict, the judicial police fitted handcuffs on Sombat and took him to a cell on the lower ground floor of the court. Then, the bail guarantor submitted request for temporary release during appeal, while putting down a security deposit of 300,000 Baht paid from the Ratsadonprasong Fund.
Later, at around 12 PM, Natedao Manothammakit, Deputy Chief Justice of the Bangkok South Criminal Court, ordered the temporary release request for Sombat to be forwarded to the Court of Appeal for approval. Normally, the Court of Appeal would make a decision within 1-3 days. As such, Sombat was brought to be detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison that day.
Observation was made that while the public prosecutor had accused Sombat of defaming, insulting, and threatening the King and importing into a computer system any computer data which is an offence relating to the security under Section 112 [of the Penal Code] and Section 14 (3) of the Computer Crime Act, respectively, the Court ruled that Sombat was also guilty of section 14 (1) of the Computer Crime Act. Thus, the Court has deliberated beyond the scope of public prosecutor’s plaint. It is expected that the lawyer will also appeal on this point.
According to the statistics of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights as of 28 April 2022, at least eight people, Sombat being the 8th, have been detained as a result of political expression or involvement without receiving bail during trial.