Thai Activist Gets More Prison Time For Insulting King

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Thai Activist Gets More Prison Time For Insulting King

Arnon Nampa, a prominent leader of the mass protests of late 2020, faces 14 charges under the country’s draconian lese-majeste law.

Thai Activist Gets More Prison Time For Insulting King

T-shirts calling for the release of imprisoned Thai human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa, as posted on the activist’s Facebook page, December 11, 2021.

Credit: Facebook/ทนายอานนท์ นำภา – Arnon Nampa

A Thai court yesterday sentenced a prominent political activist to a further four years in prison for insulting the monarchy in a 2021 social media post.

According to the advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Arnon, a 39-year-old human rights lawyer,  was found to have violated the Computer Crimes Act and Article 112 of Thailand’s penal code, commonly known as the lese-majeste law, which criminalizes any public expression deemed to insult the monarchy.

Among other things, the posts criticized King Vajiralongkorn for assuming personal control of the monarchy’s multibillion-dollar portfolio of assets and criticized the use of Article 112 against protesters and activists.

Arnon’s lawyer Kritsadang Nutcharat told Reuters that his client “denied wrongdoing,” and added that his team would lodge an appeal and if necessary, take the case to the Supreme Court.

Yesterday’s verdict is the second of 14 cases against Arnon under the lese-majeste law which carries punishments of up to 15 years in prison. In September, he was sentenced to four years in prison in the first case, which involved a speech that he gave during a pro-democracy protest in October 2020, when he called for greater public debate on the political role of the Thai monarchy.

Arnon was a prominent leader of the campaign of youth-dominated protests that erupted in the middle of that year after the court-ordered dissolution of the progressive Future Forward Party, after it came in third place at the 2019 general election. The protests demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the creation of a new and genuinely democratic constitution. Many activists also took the perilous step of breaking the taboo against including the Thai monarchy in their critique of Thailand’s lopsided concentrations of wealth and power, calling for reforms to its power.

Since last year’s conviction, the courts have already rejected three petitions for his temporary release on bail pending appeal and Arnon has now abandoned the attempt. If convicted under the remaining 12 lese-majeste cases against him, Arnon could conceivably spend decades in prison.

Yesterday’s lese-majeste ruling is part of a broader offensive by Thailand’s conservative royalist establishment against the leaders of the protest movement, whose youthful constituency helped drive the progressive Move Forward Party (MFP), the successor to Future Forward, to victory at the general election in May.

Since the 2020 protests, at least 262 people have been charged with lese-majeste, according to the advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. Another 138 people have been charged with sedition under Article 116 of the criminal code.

In many ways, the government’s behavior since early 2021 has merely proved the truth of Arnon’s claim that the lese-majeste law is being used to repress what would in most other contexts be legitimate political critiques. Indeed, advocating for the reform or repeal of Article 112 has itself become a risk factor for prosecution under Article 112. For advocating the reform of the law, among other progressive pledges, the MFP was blocked from forming the government after May’s election, and was subsequently forced into opposition.

The political bias in the Thai court system was underscored by another verdict yesterday, in which the Criminal Court in Bangkok acquitted 32 leaders and members of the misnamed People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) on terrorism and rebellion charges. Known as the “yellow shirts,” the ultra-royalist PAD seized control of Bangkok’s two airports during protests against the government aligned with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in late 2008, forcing the closure of Suvarnabhumi International Airport for more than a week.

According to the Bangkok Post, the court “ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove the defendants had committed insurrection, assaulted officials or obstructed them from performing their duties, or illegally detained any official or disrupted a communications system or air travel services during their protest at the airport.” The defendants were also accorded leniency because the protesters were peaceful and unarmed.

Despite this, the disruption of the airports led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights and was estimated to have cost the Thai economy at least 3 billion baht (nearly $85 million) per day in lost revenue.

Whether or not the “yellow shirt” action constituted terrorism or rebellion is questionable. But the confluence of these two cases underlines a long-standing reality–pro-establishment activism enjoys a degree of tolerance not accorded to those who are critical of the system.