Thai appeals court reverses acquittal in lese majeste case over offensive Facebook comment

Picture courtesy of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

The Thai Appeals Court overturned a previous ruling yesterday, convicting an individual on charges of lese majeste relating to comments deemed offensive towards the monarchy. The defendant, identified only as Wutthipat, was found guilty by the Appeals Court of violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

The judges determined that Wutthipat’s comment on the Royalists Marketplace Facebook page was offensive to a former king and the current monarch. Initially, the court sentenced him to five years in prison, but due to providing a statement beneficial to the proceedings, the sentence was reduced to three years and four months. Wutthipat was subsequently released on bail while awaiting an appeal to the Supreme Court.

On June 2, 2020, Wutthipat posted a comment online concerning the death of King Ananda Mahidol, or King Rama VIII, which took place in 1946. Siwaphan Manitkul, a private citizen, filed a lese majeste police complaint against Wutthipat on July 19, 2021, accusing him of violating Section 112 and the Computer Crime Act.

During witness hearings held on March 1-2 of the previous year, Wutthipat admitted to posting the comment, making reference to King Rama IX, the younger brother of King Rama VIII. However, he argued that lese majeste does not encompass past kings. The Samut Prakan Provincial Court had initially dismissed the case, asserting that although the defendant’s comment referenced King Rama IX with offensive remarks, Section 112 solely protects the current king, queen, heir to the throne, and regent.

Opponents of the lese majeste law argue that it serves as a powerful tool to stifle dissenting voices in Thailand, as the government can use it to impose severe penalties on critics. The law has faced backlash from human rights groups and international organisations, which assert that it has a negative impact on freedom of expression in Thai society.

Despite these criticisms and calls for amendments, the Thai government has consistently defended the lese majeste law, maintaining that it is necessary for the protection of the monarchy. The recent ruling against Wutthipat marks yet another instance in which the law has been applied to penalize those making potentially offensive remarks about past and present members of the Thai monarchy.

The case of Wutthipat will serve as a relevant example in the ongoing debate over the enforcement of the lese majeste law and its implications for the freedom of expression in Thailand. With appeals pending in the Supreme Court, it remains to be seen whether Wutthipat’s conviction will be upheld and if additional similar cases will arise in the future.

Thailand News

Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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