Thai activist gets suspended sentence for lèse-majesté

Photo courtesy of Prachatai

Activist Pasarawalee ‘Mind’ Thanakitvibulphol has been sentenced to two years in prison by the Bangkok South Criminal Court under Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, also known as Section 112. The sentence has been suspended for three years. This ruling stems from her involvement in a protest and speech at a rally held on March 24, 2021, by the Ratsadon group at the Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok.

The court found that Pasarawalee’s speech during the rally was derogatory to the monarchy. Despite her defence that she intended to offer constructive criticism to maintain the monarchy’s dignity and that she had referenced various documents in her speech, the court ruled that there was no justification for making statements that would undermine the institution.

The court’s decision led to a loss of public faith in the monarchy. However, charges related to the violation of the Emergency Decree were dismissed, as Pasarawalee was deemed to be just a participant in the protest, not an organizer.

The event in question occurred on March 24, 2021, when the Ratsadon group gathered at one of Bangkok’s most prominent intersections. The protest was part of a series of demonstrations by the pro-democracy movement in Thailand, calling for political reforms, including reform of the monarchy. The group’s rallying cry, “The country belongs to the people,” became a symbol of their demands for greater democracy, reported KhaoSod.

The sentence handed down to Pasarawalee reignited discussions about freedom of speech in Thailand, especially regarding the lèse-majesté law, which makes it a crime to defame, insult, or threaten the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent. The law has been criticised by human rights organisations for its broad interpretation and the chilling effect it has on free expression.

The court’s decision has been met with a mixed response. Supporters of the pro-democracy movement see it as another instance of the judiciary being used to suppress dissent, while proponents of the law argue that it is necessary to protect the dignity of the monarchy, which is deeply revered in Thai culture.

Probation period

Pasarawalee’s suspended sentence means that she will not serve jail time immediately but she is required to avoid any legal infractions during the three-year probation period to maintain her freedom. The use of suspended sentences in lèse-majesté cases is not uncommon, and it underscores the delicate balance Thailand’s legal system strives to maintain between upholding the law and responding to international criticism regarding freedom of speech issues.

The case of Pasarawalee is one of many that highlight the ongoing tension in Thailand between traditional institutions and a growing movement calling for change. It underscores the complexities faced by activists in a country where the monarchy continues to hold significant influence and the struggle for democratic reforms continues amid a landscape of legal and political challenges.

In related news, Vacharaesorn Vivacharawongse, son of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, visited an exhibition on Section 112 at Columbia University, promoting understanding and dialogue.

Thailand News

Nattapong Westwood

Nattapong Westwood is a Bangkok-born writer who is half Thai and half Aussie. He studied in an international school in Bangkok and then pursued journalism studies in Melbourne. Nattapong began his career as a freelance writer before joining Thaiger. His passion for news writing fuels his dedication to the craft, as he consistently strives to deliver engaging content to his audience.

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