Thai seller of rubber duck calendar found guilty of royal defamation

A Thai seller of a rubber ducky calendar has been found guilty of royal defamation. The 26 year old man, “Tonmai,” was arrested on December 31, 2020, and charged with royal defamation. Now, he will serve two years in prison after being found guilty.

The Taling Chan Criminal Court ruled that the depiction of the rubber duck was a mockery of Thailand’s Head of State. According to Prachatai English, the rubber ducks first arrived at pro-democracy demonstrations back in 2020.

The yellow duck became a symbol of resistance after protesters used the giant inflatables to block water cannon blasts. Protesters nicknamed the yellow ducks “the navy.” The ducks were given pseudo-royal titles by protesters.

Police conducted a sting operation, posing as a potential buyer of the calendar on Facebook and asking for it to be delivered by a Grab driver. Officers then tracked the location until they found Tonmai’s residence and requested a search warrant.

They found the calendar and arrested him because the calendar mocks the Head of State. During the witness examination, Tonmai said the calendar did not mention the Head of State or other royal family members. He also says he did not produce the calendars, but only delivered them.

A Thammasat University lecturer stood up for Tonmai by saying that the parody does not constitute an offence under the royal defamation law, since the law specifically refers to threat and defamation.

An activist also agreed with Tonmai’s defence by saying that the language used in the calendar has also been used in fiction when appropriate for a character’s status. During the cross-examination of a Metropolitan Police officer, he noted that he also thinks that the duck does not represent the Head of State.

But, another lecturer at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science, testified as an expert witness for the prosecution. He says he sees the duck as representing the Head of State with the calendar meaning to show that the Head of State uses taxpayer money for his sexual gain, is above executive, judicial, and legislative powers and controls the military.

He commented on March on the calendar, in which he says he saw the duck with a condom on top of its head. He says he took it to mean that the Head of State is obsessed with sex or that he is promoting the use of protection.

However, under cross-examination, the lecturer said that he agreed the duck represented many roles and that the image of a duck flying with a plane titled, “Super VIP” could not be taken as a reference to the Head of State.

Despite the back-and-forth of determining the duck calendar’s meaning and representations, Tonmai was sentenced to three years in prison, but it was reduced to two years after he gave useful testimony. He was later granted bail so he can appeal the case.

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Ann Carter

Ann Carter is an award-winning journalist from the United States with over 12 years experience in print and broadcast news. Her work has been featured in America, China and Thailand as she has worked internationally at major news stations as a writer and producer. Carter graduated from the Walter Williams Missouri School of Journalism in the USA.

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