Thai courts sentence opposition MP and pop star for royal defamation

Both defendants were involved in protests that roiled Thailand in 2020-21, demanding reform of the monarchy and constitutional amendments.
Nontarat Phaicharoen and Ruj Chuenban
Thai courts sentence opposition MP and pop star for royal defamation Chonthicha Jaengraew, a Move Forward Party MP, speaks to the media after hearing the verdict in her case for royal defamation.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

Courts in Thailand on Monday jailed a lawmaker from the opposition Move Forward Party and a pop star-turned-activist for violating the nation’s strict law against insulting the monarchy. 

Chonthicha Jaengraew, 31, a member of parliament for the Pathum Thani constituency, was sentenced to two years in prison without suspension for a speech she made in September 2021.

“The defendant’s speech can be understood as implying that the King used the people’s taxes for his personal expenses and that the government of General Prayuth Chan-o-cha amended the law to transfer public assets to the King’s personal property,” judges from Thanyaburi Provincial Court said in their ruling. 

“This damaged the King’s reputation, causing him to be insulted and hated,” the judgment said, adding the original three-year sentence was reduced by a third because of Chonthicha's helpful testimony.

Thailand’s royal defamation law, better known as Lèse-Majesté, shields the country’s all-powerful monarchy from criticism and is framed under Article 112 of the criminal code. Critics of the law say it is frequently misused to stifle dissent.

Chonthicha arrived at the court with Move Forward leader Chaithawat Tulathon, her legal team and a number of fellow MPs. About 30 observers from human rights organizations and foreign embassies attended the hearing.

After the verdict, Chonthicha –  who was a key strategist in the youth-led democracy protests that roiled Thailand in 2020-21 – said she would challenge the decision in the appeals court.

“The verdict is not unexpected because, statistically, 88% of Lèse-Majesté cases result in convictions. I have been granted bail, but there are many others who are currently in prison,” she told reporters.

According to Chaithawat, the Move Forward Party has at least three MPs being prosecuted under Article 112.

Musician and activist Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan receives roses as he arrives to report himself over royal insult charges at the Attorney General's office in Bangkok, Thailand Feb. 17, 2021. [Reuters]

The Move Forward Party won a surprise victory in Thailand’s general election in May last year, campaigning on a progressive platform that included reforming the country’s royal insult law and military-drafted constitution. 

The policies antagonized Thailand’s conservative establishment and the Constitutional Court in January ordered the party to stop all activity aimed at amending Article 112 of the criminal code.

In a separate case, the Criminal Court in Bangkok sentenced Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan, a Thai pop star-turned-activist, to four years in prison without suspension for setting fire to a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in front of the Klong Prem Central Prison on Feb. 28, 2021.

The court had scheduled the verdict to be read in Chaiamorn’s case earlier this year, but two previous hearings were postponed due to illness.

Chaiamorn did not comment to the media after the ruling, but his lawyer said they would apply for bail. He was transferred to the court’s detention center while judges weighed the application.

Advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said at least 1,954 people have been prosecuted in 1,295 cases related to protests or expression of political opinions since mid-2020. More than 270 are facing charges under Article 112.


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