Political prosecution continued at the end of 2023, where, despite few new lawsuits, witness and verdict hearings have taken place routinely for the existing cases filed between 2020 and 2022. The courts have passed judgments in at least 12 lèse-majesté cases, resulting in dismissals as well as guilty rulings, whereas all nine Emergency Decree and Section 116 cases have been dismissed.
According to the TLHR statistics, at least 1,938 people have been prosecuted in 1,264 cases due to their participation in political assemblies and expressions since the beginning of the “Free Youth” protest on 18 July 2020 until 31 December 2023, 286 of whom are children and youth under 18 years old.
Compared to November 2023, three more people have been prosecuted, resulting in two new cases (only counting those accused who have never been charged before).
If we also count and include those who are charged repeatedly in multiple cases, TLHR finds that there would be at least 3,944 instances of prosecution in total.
The prosecution can be grouped according to key charges, as follows:
1. The royal defamation or “lèse-majesté” charge under Section 112 of the Penal Code: at least 262 individuals in 287 cases.
2. The “sedition” charge under Section 116 of the Penal Code: at least 138 individuals in 44 cases.
3. Charges of violation of the Emergency Decree: at least 1,469 people in 664 cases (since May 2020 when the first lawsuit against protesters and political activists was filed)
4. Charges under the Public Assembly Act: at least 179 people in 91 cases.
5. Charges under the Computer Crime Act: at least 195 people in 214 cases.
6. Contempt of court charge: at least 42 people in 24 cases and insult to the court charge involving at least 34 people in 10 cases.
Of these 1,264 cases, 469 have been rendered final, meaning over 795 cases are still ongoing at various stages.
The following key events have been observed as part of the prosecution trend in December 2023:
Two additional lèse-majesté lawsuits have been filed from existing cases, and the court has issued 12 lèse-majesté judgments throughout the month.
In December, to the knowledge of TLHR, two additional lèse-majesté lawsuits have been filed not based on new instances, but from existing cases. This includes the case against Nara, for whom the court has considered and issued a verdict in a trial separate from the other defendants, and the case against Chinnawat ‘Bright’ Chankrachang, who gave a speech during the 2 December march to Ha Yaek Ladprao Intersection. In the latter, since Bright was the only defendant to plead guilty and be issued a verdict, the court asked that the case against the other defendants be re-filed, thus resulting in a separate case.
As for the ongoing lèse-majesté trials, courts have issued judgments in a total of 12 cases in the past month, including 10 in the Court of First Instance and two in the Court of Appeals.
The court outcomes have ranged from a complete dismissal of all charges to harsh imprisonment sentences. A notable example of the former is the case against Nara, who was part of the making and distributing of Lazada’s sale campaign promotional video clip. The court determined that the said clip was not considered an insult or a threat and clarified that, according to Section 6 of the Constitution, the phrase “…shall not be violated” meant that the King could not be accused since his action could not be held an offence as it was not committed directly by him.
Supreeya Jaikaew, accused of affixing the sign with the text “Royal budget > Rehabilitation budget for the people”, has been acquitted by Chiang Rai Provincial Court, seeing that the criticism was directed at the public budget and did not contain elements of defamation, insult, or threat. Moreover, the administration of the public budget is the duty of the government, and not within the power of the king.
In the case against Sophon ‘Get’ and ‘Joseph,’ the Thonburi Criminal Court acquitted the defendants retroactively, seeing that the speech only concerned King Rama I and unverified historical fact. Nevertheless, the court ruled Get guilty as charged, seeing that he had also alluded to the current king, and sentenced him to a 3-year jail term.
Some cases received relatively harsh punishment last month. Both Jirawat, who shared three social media posts, and Rakchanok ‘Ice’, who tweeted and retweeted posts, have both been sentenced to a six-year jail term. The former has not been granted bail during appeal.
Atiruj has been sentenced to an imprisonment of a term of 1 year and 8 months in the case in which he allegedly shouted “Burden everywhere you go” during a royal visit. He has been granted bail during appeal.
The cases in the Appeals Court have also resulted in mixed outcomes. The Appeals Court has affirmed the lower court’s decision to acquit “Chaichana,” a psychiatric patient from Lamphun accused in Narathiwat, but has chosen to sentence “Panitan,” accused of commenting on the Royalist Marketplace Facebook Page. That said, in the latter, the court commuted Panitan’s imprisonment sentence from a term of 2 years to 1 year and 6 months, without suspension. Panitan has been granted bail during her case’s appeal to the Supreme Court.
In summary, the outcomes of lèse-majesté cases during the month of December have varied. Some cases, which should have never been pursued as offences in the first place, have been dismissed by the court, while others have resulted in unsuspended sentences. The overbroad interpretation of the law is still sporadically observed, and bail practice has not been consistent.
To the knowledge of TLHR, the number of people associated with lèse-majesté cases detained during trial has increased by at least 15 as of the end of December. There has been no change in the court’s continuous denial of bail for lèse-majesté cases, despite additional attempts following the court’s decision to grant bail during appeal for a group of defendants ruled guilty by the Court of First Instance who received similar lèse-majesté sentences.
Nonthaburi District Court dismissed the case against protesters who participated in the anti-Prayuth protest at Nonthaburi Pier on 30 September 2021.
No new cases related to protests emerged, though seven Emergency Decree cases have been dismissed.
In December, there were no new cases related to protests. However, the courts have issued judgments for seven existing cases involving Emergency Decree charges from the 2020-2022 protests, all of which have been dismissed (one was dismissed by the Appeals Court overturning the first court’s decision, namely the Phitsanulok car mob case).
A pattern in the court’s judgements should be noted. If the protest took place in an open space with good airflow, was not congested, observed a certain level of disease prevention measures, had low risk of disease transmission, or lacked witnesses and/or evidence proving that the defendants were the protest organizers, the courts would typically not consider the protest activity to be an offense.
Among the dismissed cases, the case against four citizens involved in the 11 August protest at the Victory Monument is particularly interesting. The Criminal Court determined that the protest was merely directed at the functioning of the government, and the witness and evidence in the case failed to prove that the defendants were the protest organizers. Moreover, the court ruled that the said assembly was an exercise of constitutional rights and harbored low risk of disease transmission.
However, in a previous case of similar nature arising from the same event, eight defendants were sentenced to a one-year jail term, with the potential for suspension. This begs the question regarding the standard, or the lack thereof, in the court’s decisions, as the outcomes should not have differed to this extent.
The use of Section 116, aka the sedition charge, has increased in Southern Border Provinces, while two protest cases involving Section 116 charges have been dismissed.
Last month, one new case involving a charge under Section 116, also known as the “sedition law,” has been initiated. This case concerns the production and distribution of mock-up referendum cards on the issue of the right to self-determination of Patani people during an event at Prince of Songkhla University Pattani campus in June 2023. TLHR has become aware that the commander of the 4th Army Area proxied someone to accuse five activists and participants under this charge. The accused all appeared at the Pattani Police Station to hear the charges last month.
On the other hand, the courts have also dismissed two Section 116 cases, including the case against 13 former New Democracy Movement (NDM) activists involved in the protest in front of Pathumwan Police Station on 24 June 2015. After four years of trial, the Bangkok South Criminal Court ruled that the assembly was peaceful and without arms and did not cause social unrest, and that the alleged speeches were aimed at calling for the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the government to hold an election, neither of which is considered a legal offence or an unconstitutional exercise of rights and liberties.
In the case against Atthapon “Kru Yai” and Chookiat “Justin,” who gave speeches in Udonthani in 2020, the Udonthani Provincial Court saw that their speeches did not intend to call for a change of regime to a republic or for the abolition of the monarchy. The court also held that the protesters were unarmed and did not cause any damages to public properties or social unrest. Therefore, the court determined that the two defendants did not have a special circumstance or motivation to commit an offence under Section 116.
In summary, with regards to Section 116, there are both new cases against activists, which have been filed especially in the Southern Border Provinces where the local activists work on issues such as political regimes and self-determination, as well as existing cases against activists, who have been involved in the protests in the recent years, most of which have recently been dismissed by the courts.