Darunee Charnchoensilpakul was initially sentenced to 18 years in jail on lese majeste charges on 28 August 2009. That trial, conducted in secret in a closed court, saw her receive 6 years for each of three comments she made speaking to a political rally. The case made a mockery of Thailand’s judicial processes (see below). She faced a re-trial after that case was declared invalid (see below).
Commonly known as “Da Torpedo,” Darunee, a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra and self-proclaimed pro-democracy campaigner, was arrested on 22 July 2008 after delivering an exceptionally strong 30-minute speech denouncing the 2006 coup and the monarchy. She was also accused of slandering the rabid General Saprang Kalayanamitr, an outspoken leader of the 2006 military coup.
It was the so-called People’s Alliance for Democracy and its supporters who brought media attention to her case, baying for Darunee’s incarceration on lese majeste charges. PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul allegedly repeated her claims while demanding her jailing, and eventually found himself facing a lese majeste charge.
Darunee is from Bangkok and had previously worked at the Phim Thai newspaper and the Thai Sky News cable network.
She was refused bail many times. The courts repeatedly found no grounds to grant bail. The Bangkok Post reported that “The court reasoned that the charges against Ms Daranee carried very heavy penalties, and that her alleged offenses could tarnish the monarchy, therefore granting her bail could hurt the feelings of the King’s loyal subjects.”
Her lawyer pointed out that her case does not fall under the legal reasons for denying bail: “According to Article 108 of the Criminal Procedure Act, a suspect should be denied bail if he/she was likely to escape or repeat the offence he/she was accused of, or to meddle with witnesses and evidence, or if the bail guarantor was deemed to be unreliable.”
In February 2009, it was reported that Darunee was ill, thin and discouraged. A report stated that: “Her voice was hoarse and her words sounded fuzzy as she could hardly open her mouth to speak due to severe jaw dysfunction.” This is the medical condition that the court considered provided no grounds for granting bail. At the time, she felt alone and abandoned and she endured insults from fellow inmates and prison officials who castigate her for showing disrespect to the monarchy. However, this phase passed, and she remained defiant.
When Darunee’s trial began in June 2009, the judge, citing reasons of national security, closed the trial, meaning it became a secret political trial. This decision caused an emotional response from Darunee who said: “I want justice.” She added, “The speech I am charged with was made at an open rally. I cannot accept that a closed trial will guarantee justice.” Judge Prommat Toosang said Darunee’s trial at Bangkok’s Criminal Court disingenuously claimed: “I guarantee the defendant will get a fair trial,” and then closed the court.
In July 2009, Darunee appeared in court on other charges, “accused of surrounding the office of ASTV and insulting Sondhi Limthongkul when she led a group of red shirts to protest against the yellow shirts’ mouthpiece in 2007.” She was charged with “gathering in a group of ten or more people to instigate public unrest, detaining other people, damaging private property, trespass, and insulting others, in the incident when she led a group of about 50-70 red shirts to protest at the ASTV office on Phra Athit Road on June 1, 2007.”
When the defence lawyer requested that the court summon Sondhi to testify as a witness, Sondhi’s lawyers declined. She was eventually convicted on this charge, but having served a year in jail, the fine she received was set aside.
On 28 August 2009, Darunee was sentenced to 18 years in jail. No-one can claim that this was a fair trial as the decision comes from a politicized court that was closed.
Darunee remained defiant, vowing to fight on.
PPT believes that her refusal to plead guilty is the reason why she has received such a harsh sentence. Usually, it is expected that those on lese majeste charges will plead guilty in the belief that they will receive a lighter sentence in exchange for the case not having to go to court. The Financial Times states: “Few defendants in lèse majesté cases choose to fight the charges as Ms Daranee did: lawyers say the ill-defined laws are almost impossible to beat even in a case that is open to public scrutiny, and most choose to plead guilty and beg the king for mercy on conviction. Thai law stipulates that defendants who choose to admit the charges against them can receive more lenient sentences.” Some 30-40 of her supporters were present for the reading of the verdict.
Following her sentencing, Darunee was the subject of further harassment by prison officials and was placed in solitary confinement for unspecified offenses. The prison has also created a special name tag for her, identifying her as convicted of lese majeste. It seems that 18 years is insufficient punishment for some authorities. These actions by Thai officials violate international law.
On 27 October 2009, Darunee’s lawyer lodged an appeal against her sentence at the Criminal Court. An appeal was also made to the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of her trial in secret.
On 29 July 2010, Darunee requested temporary release to receive medical treatment. She also argued that Sondhi Limthongkul, a PAD leader accused of the same crime, has always been granted bail until now.” Naturally, Sondhi, being a yellow-shirt, received different treatment. Her request was rejected a few days later, citing the fact that her case carried a severe punishment and her crime was against the revered and venerated monarchy, affecting widely the feelings of loyal people.
Finally, in February 2011, the Appeals Court voided the jail sentence handed down by the Criminal Court in Darunee’s closed trial.
The grounds were that an earlier petition for a Constitution Court ruling on legal procedures (based on Sections 29 and 40 of the constitution) had not been forwarded to the court for due consideration. She asked the Criminal Court to forward her petition to the Constitution Court to rule whether the prosecutors’ request was constitutional. The Criminal Court did not forward her petition to the Constitution Court, and went ahead with the trial and convicted and sentenced her. The Appeals Court annulled the jail sentence.
This outcome meant that the Criminal Court would forward her original petition to the Constitution Court for a ruling on whether the prosecutors’ request for the trial to be held in camera under Section 177 of the Criminal Procedures Code contravenes Sections 29 and 40 of the constitution. If the Constitution Court ruled in her favor, the prosecution could request a fresh trial as the charge would not be dismissed. The decision also meant that Darunee could again request bail.
On 17 February 2011, her lawyer and brother went with 1 million baht in cash to attempt to bail her out. The request was denied, on the basis that earlier courts had denied her request for bail, that she committed a grave crime against the monarchy, and that she was a flight risk. Her lawyer appealed against this bail denial and that appeal was dismissed on 1 March 2011.
Then, in a remarkable demonstration of the injustice and bias inherent in the Thai courts, the Constitutional Court’s verdict was that her secret trial was constitutional! This verdict was read by the Criminal Court on 17 October 2011 and her verdict reading is scheduled for 15 December 2011.
PPT is unsure how her re-trial took place. It seems the judges simply met, considered the original evidence from the voided verdict trial and sentenced to 15 years jail on three counts of lese majeste. Some thought this was a reduction in sentence from the original 18 years. The fact is that Darunee has already served more than 3 years.
The presiding judge who read the verdict was Chanathip Muanphawong, who also read the patently ridiculous 20-year verdict on Ampol Tangnopakul.
The judge said the court found that Darunee had “committed the crime of royal defamation under the Criminal Code’s articles 112 and 91 and therefore deserved a five-year sentence for each of the three offences — committed in June 7 and 13 and July 18, 2008 – for a total of 15 years.
After hearing the verdict Darunee reportedly stated “that there was no point in fighting on under such circumstances.” We assume she meant under circumstances where no one charged under lese majeste can get a fair hearing or justice. However, in early January 2012, Darunee’s lawyer stated that she would appeal. Obviously her sentencing was a huge disappointment, but after reflection, she remained brave and determined.
She appealed and her application for bail while her appeal was heard and, as usual, rejected on the bizarre notion that this brave woman would flee the country.
By mid-May 2012, Darunee was hospitalized for an operation on her molar, a serious health problem known since her very first bail application.
Meanwhile, on 26 September 2012, Sondhi Limthongkul, the PAD leader who demanded Darunee’s imprisonment for lese majeste was acquitted on the charge he faced for allegedly repeating her statements while demanding her arrest and incarceration.
In June 2013, the Appeals Court rejected Darunee’s appeal. On 24 July 2013, it was reported that Darunee had finally agreed, after 5 years in prison, to seek a pardon and to drop her appeals.
Darunee Charnchoensilpakul’s speech:
YouTube has 4 excerpts from one of her offending speeches, in Thai, with limited English titling. Search for “Da Torpedo” at YouTube and the speeches come up.
Media reports on Darunee’s case:
Prachatai, 24 July 2013: “จำคุกครบ 5 ปี ‘ดา ตอร์ปิโด’ ไม่สู้ชั้นฎีกา เตรียมขออภัยโทษ“
The Nation, 13 June 2013: “Court upholds Da Torpedo’s 15-year lese majeste term“
Bangkok Post, 12 June 2013: “Da Torpedo loses lese majeste appeal“
The Nation, 28 November 2012: “PM accused of misusing budget“
Bangkok Post, 18 September 2012: “Rich get bail, while poor go to jail“
Prachatai, 24 May 2012: “Surachai hospitalized“
Bangkok Post, 11 May 2012: “Spare a few thoughts for Da Torpedo“
The Nation, 16 March 2012: “Da Torpedo bail rejected“
Prachatai, 6 March 2012: “Surachai will ask PM to seek royal pardon for political prisoners“
Prachatai, 6 January 2012: “Da Torpedo will fight her case“
Bangkok Post, 15 December 2011: “Da Torpedo sentenced to 15 years“
AP, 15 December 2011: “Thai activist gets 15 years for insulting monarchy“
The Nation, 15 December 2011: “Da Torpedo gets 15 years in jail“
Bangkok Post, 17 October 2011: “Daranee hoping verdict will be rescheduled”
Prachatai, 2 March 2011: “Appeals Court denies bail for Da Torpedo”
Prachatai, 18 February 2011: “Da Torpedo denied bail”
Bangkok Post, 9 February 2011: “Da Torpedo wins appeal”
A Safe World for Women, n.d.: “Da Torpedo. Thailand and Free Speech – the next Burma?”
Prachatai, 20 October 2010: “Foreigners and red shirts not allowed to visit Da Torpedo”
Prachatai, 12 August 2010: “Trial of Norporchor USA webmaster set for February next year”
Prachatai, 11 December 2009: “Da Torpedo revisited” and 9 December 2009: “เราจะไม่ทอดทิ้งกัน” รายงานการเยี่ยมดารณี ชาญเชิงศิลปกุล
Prachatai, 25 September 2009: “USA, Australia, EU and UN asked to intervene in Thailand’s jailing of political prisoners” and 24 September 2009: ทนาย ‘ดา ตอร์ปิโด’ ยื่นหนังสือสถานทูตอเมริกา-ออสเตรเลีย-อียู-ยูเอ็น เรียกร้องให้ยุติการกักขังนักโทษการเมือง
Prachatai, 14 September 2009: “Corrections Dept asked to explain Da Torpedo’s solitary confinement” and 12 September 2009: “ทนาย ‘ดา ตอร์ปิโด’ จี้ราชทัณฑ์แจงการกักเดี่ยว-เลือกปฏิบัติ”.
Prachatai, 10 September 2009: “Da Torpedo’s life behind bars”
Awzar Thi, in the Jurist, 6 September 2009: “Thailand judiciary further discredits itself with harsh lese majesty sentence against protestor”
The Times, 29 August 2009: “Red Shirt activist jailed for 18 years for insulting Thai Royal Family”
Christian Science Monitor, 29 August 2009: “Crackdown on royal critics deepens in Thailand”
Khom Chat Luek, 28 August 2009: จำคุก”ดา ตอร์บิโด”18ปีฐานหมิ่นสถาบัน
Bloomberg,28 August 2009: “Thai Woman Gets 18 Years in Prison for Royal Insult”
Reuters, 28 August 2009: “Thai court jails Thaksin supporter for royal insult”
New York Times, 28 August 2009: “Activist Gets 18-Year Term for Insulting Thai King”
Southeast Asian Press Alliance, 28 August 2009: “Thai activist gets 18-year prison term for lese majeste”
Prachatai, 28 August 2009: “Da Torpedo sentenced to 18 years in jail for lèse majesté”
Sydney Morning Herald, 28 August 2009: “Torpedo gets 18 years for insulting king”
Financial Times, 28 August 2009: “Thai activist jailed for 18 years”
Bangkok Post, 28 August 2009: “18 years in jail for Da Torpedo”
Earth Times, 28 August 2009: “Thai court sentences woman to 18 years for lese majeste”
Reuters, 28 August 2009: “Thai court jails Thaksin supporter for royal insult”
Prachatai, 26 July 2009: “Activists call to Khlong Prem, to mark one year of Da Torpedo’s imprisonment”
Prachatai, 4 July 2007: “Da Torpedo in court for open trial”
Prachatai, 27 June 2009: “Amnesty urges Thailand to open lese-majeste trial”
The Nation, 25 June 2009: “Closed door lese majeste trial for Daranee makes lawyer despair”
New Mandala, 24 June 2009, “The injustice of a closed trial”
Straits Times, 23 June 2009, “Trial shut for security”
Reuters, 23 June 2009, “Thai lese-majeste trial shut “for national security”
Prachatai, 22 June 2009, “Talk with Da Torpedo’s lawyer” and in ไทย, “สัมภาษณ์ทนาย ‘ดา ตอร์ปิโด’ ก่อนขึ้นศาล: ชะตากรรมคนถูกขังยาว และคำถามถึง ‘คนเสื้อแดง’”
Prachatai, 1 March 2009: “Da Torpedo denied bail yet again”
Bangkok Post, 24 February 2009: “UDD jilts Da Torpedo. Ex-protester loses 15 kilos in jail”
Bangkok Post, 23 February 2009: “Lese majeste suspect’s bail rejected”
Prachatai, 9 January 2009, “Destinies of Two Female Lese Majeste Offenders”
Prachatai, 16 August 2008, “Bail still denied for lèse majesté detainee after 24 days”
Bangkok Post, 31 July 2008, “Police refuse to grant ‘Da Torpedo’ bail”
Prachatai, 25 July 2008: “Highest Institutional Problems”
The Nation, 24 July 2008: “Newsmaker”
The Nation, 23 July 2008, “‘Da Torpedo’ arrested over rally remarks”
The Nation, 22 July 2008, “‘Da Torpedo’ arrested on Lese Majeste charge”