February 2024: 1,279 political lawsuits were filed against 1,951 people.

While the petition for the People’s Amnesty Bill is in full swing, the situation of political prosecution remains strong. We have discovered at least seven new lese-majeste lawsuits having been filed in February. Almost all of them were brought by members of ultra-royalist groups back in 2020 – 2022 during the series of protests at that time, but the summon warrants were only rolling out this year. Meanwhile, the number of political detainees is on the rise, with five more people charged with Section 112 (lese majeste) and Section 116 (sedition) marching into jail. Interestingly, a pair of journalists/photographers covering activism have also been subject to lawsuits last month. 

According to the TLHR statistics, at least 1,279 cases related to political participation and expression have been filed against 1,951 individuals since the beginning of the “Free Youth” protest on 18 July 2020 until 29 February 2024. 

Among these are 217 cases against 286 children and youths under 18 years old.

Since January 2024, 11 new lawsuits have been filed last month resulting in 4 people accused (only counting those never been charged before).

If we also count and include those who are charged redundantly in multiple cases, we have found that there would be at least 3,982 instances of prosecution in total.

The lawsuits can be grouped according to key charges used, as follows:

1. The royal defamation or “lèse-majesté” charge under Section 112 of the Penal Code: at least 268 individuals in 295 cases. 

2. The “sedition” charge under Section 116 of the Penal Code: at least 150 individuals in 48 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 92 cases.

5. Charges under the Computer Crime Act: at least 197 people in 215 cases.

6. Contempt of court charge: at least 43 people in 25 cases and insult to the court charge involving at least 34 people in 10 cases.

Out of the mentioned 1,279 cases, 520 have become final, meaning over 759 cases are still ongoing at various stages.

The following key events have been observed as part of the prosecution trend in January 2024:

The lese-majeste cases have increased by seven pushing the total number of the cases brought since 2020 to near 300. 

In February, as far as we know, at least seven more lese-majeste lawsuits have been filed. Five of the alleged offenders had never been charged before. We have found that almost all of them were brought by members of ultra-royalist groups based on political involvement in 2020 – 2022; however, police have only begun to issue summon warrants during the recent months. As a result, the total number of the lese-majeste lawsuits since 2020 has now almost reached 300. 

The people affected by these new lawsuits filed by members of the People’s Centre for the Protection of the Institutions (CCP) include Kant ‘Eye” Ruethai, who was accused by Anon Klinkaew of two Facebook posts published in 2022, “Je Juang”, a noodle vendor accused by Rapeepong Chaiyarat of her speech during the protest in front of Bangkok South Criminal Court about the costs of a royal motorcade in 2022, and three activists, Chatchai “Boy”, Nawan, and Chatrapee, also accused by Anon Klinkaew of reading a statement during the protest in front of the German Embassy in 2021.

Last month, Thonglor and Mueang Phatthalung Police Station have issued warrants summoning activists and a politician to report themselves in lese majeste lawsuits. The TLHR has also learned from the TCSD that the public prosecutor is planning to indict a citizen from Pathumthani province associated with another lese-majeste lawsuit in March.

Meanwhile, the court has sentenced Chinnawat “Bright” to an imprisonment in a lawsuit related to the protest in front of Siam Commercial Bank HQ on 25 November 2020. As his trial was concluded individually, separate from the other defendants in the same case, following Bright’s confession, we have counted it as its own entity.

As for the ongoing lese-majeste trials, the courts have passed verdicts in seven cases last month, six by the Court of First Instance and one by the Court of Appeal.

Notable cases include the dismissal of two cases by the trial courts outside of Bangkok. Kittipon “Fluke”, who held a banner saying “Starving in the reign of Rama X” during the car mob activity in Ubon Ratchathani, has been acquitted by the Ubon Ratchathani Provincial Court, reasoning that the said text was not considered a defamation, an insult, or a threat against the monarchy. The Plaintiff’s witness also attested that the phrase “in the reign of Rama X” might refer to a period or an era, and not specifically to a certain individual. It could thus not completely be heard that the defendant had a genuine intention to refer to the King himself.

Phatthalung Provincial Court has also dismissed the case against “Three Southern Ratsadon” accused of taking photographs of locations around the province in order to post them on the “Free Phatthalung” and “Democracy in Souther Thailand” Facebook pages with political captions. The Court held that the Plaintiff’s evidence was inadequate to prove the offence.

In the other five cases, all defendants have confessed and received unsuspended sentences, except for Aek, who shared a post from the “KTUK” Facebook page, who did receive a suspension of the sentence, instead. Wut, accused of publishing twelve Facebook posts, was imposed the highest punishment. That is, Minburi Criminal Court has sentenced him to an imprisonment of a three-year term for each count/post, or 36 years in total, reduced to 12 years and 72 months (around 18 years) thanks to a confession. Wut had not been granted bail and has continued to be in prison until now. He was moved to Khlong Prem Central Prison last month.

Atthasit and Chinnawat “Bright” have also been imprisoned by the Court of First Instance and have not been granted bail by the Court of Appeal during appeal. The Court of Appeal affirmed the decision of the lower court in the case against Ukrit “Kong”, accused of publishing five Facebook posts, sentencing him to a jail term of five years and 30 months (around 7.5 years). Likewise, he has not been granted bail by the Supreme Court. As such, the number of political detainees has steadily risen, especially those charged with lese majeste. As of March 2024, at least 25 people charged with lese majeste have been  currently detained during trial or as convicts. 

The use of the sedition charge against Tawan and Frank in a case related to a royal motorcade and speeches made in 2021.

Another noteworthy case last month concerns two activists, Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon and Natthanon “Frank” Chaimahabut. After live-broadcasting the quarrel with police officers, who had asked them to pull their car over in the middle of the Makkasan expressway, and a prolonged honking session at them, they became targets of a smear campaign on social media, which alleged that they were honking the horn at and following Princess Sirindhorn’s motorcade.

Originally, the police from Din Daeng Police Station issued warrants summoning them to hear the charges of insulting officers and causing disturbance in the public. However, once issued, the arrest warrants ended up also containing the charges under Section 116 of the Penal Code (sedition) and provisions of the Computer Crime Act. It was alleged that, by broadcasting the content, Tawan had intended to stir public resistance against a royal motorcade. 

The police sought detention from the Criminal Court, who also did not allow bail for Tawan and Frank, claiming that the alleged offences contained heavy penalties and were committed without any respect towards the country’s law creating disturbance and disorder in the society. Even though it had not yet been proven whether the two were guilty as charged or not, the Court acted as if they already were convicts. This has led to another attempt of a dry hunger strike, which is still ongoing at the time of writing, by the two activists during serving their time in jail.

In addition to Tawan and Frank, another sedition lawsuit has been brought last month by Anon Klinkaew against three activists, who read the statement at the protest in front of the German Embassy in 2021. Thung Mahamek Police Station has notified them of both the lese majeste and sedition charges at the same time.

Another interesting development is the Chiang Mai Public Prosecutor has issued orders of non-indictment for the lawsuit against eight students and activists accused of Section 116 (sedition) and the violation of the Emergency Decree as the main charges from the protest at Tha Phae Gate, Chiang Mai, on 9 August 2020. It was held that the alleged offender’s act could not be deemed one causing unrest or disaffection among the people in a manner likely to cause disturbance in the country, but one with an honest belief that one had the rights according to the Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand was a state party. At any rates, the move against the indictment only happened three years after pressing charges. Prasit “James”, a Chiang Mai University graduate and one of the alleged offenders, had already been detained for seven days during the investigation in 2020 for ultimately no reason. 

The ambiguity and generality of Section 116 has allowed it to be used by state authorities and members of the opposite political camp to legally attack or repress dissidents. This remains a major issue that needs to be addressed later on.

Lawsuit against journalists and photographers covering political activism.

In February, Prachatai journalists and freelance photographers, Nutthaphol Meksobhol aka “Pae” and Natthaphon Phanphongsanon aka “Yha”, were accused of facilitating the destruction of a historic site during their field duty to report on the activity to spray-paint the wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha led by “Bang-Ern” on 28 March 2023. 

Despite the two not having received summon warrants, the Royal Palace Police Station went ahead and sought the court’s permission to issue arrest warrants immediately. What’s more, the said warrants were issued since 22 May 2023, yet no arrest had taken place until last month, when both Pae and Yha were apprehended at the same time.

This case begs the question as to how a journalist and a photographer on duty to cover an activists’ activity on site could be interpreted by authorities as facilitating the commission of offence. This can potentially undermine the role and the freedom of press, too. 

In this case, the police also pressed charges against “Sainam”, an activist, and added him to the list of the alleged offenders. Towards the end of the month, another lawsuit containing the charges of defamation by publication, mischief, and causing nuisance, was also filed by Seree Suwannapanon, a senator, against a group of students who affixed flyers around Seree 2 Market urging the senators to listen to the people’s voices when electing the prime minister on 1 August 2023. After police officers from Wat Phraya Krai Police Station had informed Sophon “Get” of the charges in the prison, warrants were issued summoning the other five alleged offenders, including “Pae” and “Yha”, who, as mentioned above, went there to cover and take pictures of the activity.