On October 1st 2013, Mr. Sondhi Limthongkul, former leader of the People′s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has been convicted of lese majeste by the Appeals Court for repeating offensive remarks to the monarchy by Ms. Daranee Charncherngsilpakul, alias “Da Torpedo”. The Appeals Court decided to reverse the lower court’s decision which acquitted him of the charge and sentenced him to three years imprisonment. The sentence was later reduced by one-third to two years in jail because his testimony was deemed useful by the court.
In 2008, Ms. Daranee publicly gave a speech in front of an audience and intentionally criticising the Royal Family at Sanam Luang,the Royal Field right in front of Bangkok′s Grand Palace. Predictably, she was later arrested for insulting the monarchy, a criminal act under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, and was found guilty of lese majeste by the court. The court ruled that her action is fit for a maximum punishment and sentenced her to 15 years in prison. Ms. Daranee decided to appeal her case and filed for bail. But as usual for all 112 prisoners, the court denied her request on several occasions by citing the usual excuse of national security and flight risk. She was jailed ever since and is currently serving her time at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution in Bangkok. Earlier this year in July, Ms. Daranee’s lawyer announced that she will seek a royal pardon after more than 5 years of imprisonment and reported health concerns.
Back in 2008, on the night of 20 July at one of the rally sites of the Yellow Shirts near Makkhawan Rangsan Bridge, Mr. Sondhi decided to read parts of Ms. Daranee speeches out on a speakerphone because he was trying to make a point.As seen on TV, Mr. Sondhi was accusing Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies of plotting against the monarchy, and was simply citing a well-known pro-Thaksin supporter speech as proof of his allegation of the former Prime Minister’s plot to overthrow the Royal Family while demanding her arrest and prosecution.
Even though he was quoting words that do not belong to him, Mr. Sondhi was soon arrested and charged with lese majeste for restating those remarks. The charge against him was filed by the police and he faced trial in 2011. A year later he was acquitted of the charges by the Criminal Court, as it found that Sondhi had “no intention” of breaking the law but now a higher court has overturned that ruling.The current Appeals Court prosecutors claimed during the trial this year that Mr. Sondhi propagation of the offensive material to a wider audience amounts to insulting the monarchy but Mr. Sondhihad insisted that he was simply acting out of his loyalty to the monarchy.
Remarkably even after the court noted that it had been aware of Mr. Sondhi′s good intention, it still ruled that it was unnecessary for him to re-broadcast the contents in public as some were not aware of what Ms. Daranee had said. The court insisted that in doing so, Mr Sondhi had caused other people to know about the matter and the incident sparked much discussion and criticism which eventually affected the monarchy.
According to the Appeals Court, Mr. Sondhi’ saction was lack of “sufficient caution” and found him guilty of lese majeste. They sentenced him to three years that were reduced to two but Mr. Sondhi had contested the sentence, applied for bail and explained to the press of his intention of taking the matter to the Supreme Court. The court later granted him bail for 500,000 baht surety on the condition that he cannot leave the country without the court permission.
The case highlights the nature of Article 112 of the criminal code which has been described by many as a violation of free speech. It also shows that even supporters of the monarchy are not exempt from this deeply flawed and outdated law. Opponents of the law might argue that such a strong measure helps to discourage the media from reporting 112 cases due to fear of punishment. However, this argument neglected the fact that such a remark also violates the freedom of press in this country.
Besides the obvious violations to the freedom of opinion and expression Mr. Sondhi case also highlights the double standards and political bias in Thailand. While numerous other lese majeste prisoners are rejected bail and remain imprisoned while awaiting trial for reasons of flight risk and “national security”, Mr, Sondhi is able to walk free out on bail for 500,000 baht while well-known 112 prisoners and Red Shirt activist, Mr. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk’s requests for bail was dismissed forthe 15th time this year.
Apart from the relentless request for bail, Mr. Somyot was also prepared to put down more than 4,000,000 baht surety as part of the conditions for his release but the same court denied it and cited that the case “affected the good morals of the public” and the defendant might flee if granted a temporary release because of the seriousness of his sentenced. The former editor of Voice of Thaksin magazine was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment and has been detained in Bangkok Remand Prison since April 30, 2011. He was charged for les majeste because he published in the magazine two articles that was deemed to be offensive to the monarchy.He did not even write the articles himself.
Dr. Weng Tojilakarn, Pheu Thai Party MP and co-leader of the UDD suggested to lawyers of Ms. Daranee and of other 112 prisoners that they should quickly file for temporary release due to the latest development. He said, “Lawyers of Daranee, Surachai and Ekkachai should request for another bail immediately because this time it should be considered by the Appeals Court based on the recent outcome of Sondhi’s les majeste case”.