In October 2011, the online news site Prachatai first revealed the fate of Wanchai Saetan, aged about 60, who was convicted of lese majeste in 2009 and sentenced to combined sentences of 15 years in jail for disseminating leaflets deemed offensive to the monarchy.
The report states that on 6 April 2009, the Singaporean, who has lived in Thailand for over 30 years and speaks fluent Thai, was arrested near Government House during a protest rally of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship. He was distributing 6-page leaflets strongly critical of the 2006 coup. The report continues as follows:
Spurred by the seizure of Suvarnabhumi Airport by the People’s Alliance for Democracy in late 2008, he wrote a document out of rage as he had worked as a tourist guide throughout his stay in the country. The original version contained over 50 pages. He later edited it into leaflets after he found that no one was willing to read the lengthy piece. He distributed the leaflets at more than 10 schools and universities.
He lived for 15 years with his Thai wife, a clothes seller, but has no children. He was interested in politics and particularly history as he was a guide. Later he read political history books, and he claimed that he had read numerous history books and had great respect for King Taksin.
According to what he told close friends, he was not affiliated to any political group, and he had been to just a few UDD rallies. On the day of his arrest, he wanted to go to Thammasat University to distribute his leaflets, but as it was closed for a holiday he went to the UDD rally instead. There he was seized by the UDD guards who took him to the police.
He felt sad and also angry with the UDD. He insisted that although he used strong language in the leaflets, he was rational.
He insisted on this in court, but the court did not allow him to elaborate. His trial was held in secret; even his wife had to stay outside. He was denied bail until the court handed down its verdict on 26 Feb 2010.
According to the prosecution, the defendant ‘insulted, defamed and threatened’ the King by distributing a document which started with the King’s speech ‘I shall reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people’ and contained offensive comments with the intention of making the public lose faith and respect for the King.
The court found him guilty under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, saying that his act constituted a severe offence against the King as Head of State who has long been held in the highest respect by all the people, and also seriously affected the feelings of the Thai people.
The court said that the defendant deserved severe punishment, and gave him a jail term of 15 years. However, as he had confessed during the investigation and his testimony was considered somewhat beneficial to court proceedings, the jail term was reduced by one-third to 10 years.
About a week later, on 5 March 2010, the public prosecutor brought yet another case against him, this time for distributing the same leaflets at Kasetsart University Demonstration School on 16 Feb 2009.
On 28 Feb 2011, he was given a 10-year prison sentence, which was reduced to 5 years because he had pleaded guilty.
Before the court ruling, perhaps as a result of the mounting pressures of the court cases and the living conditions in prison where he said he could hardly eat and sleep, he expressed his anger and strong criticism while in court, and was then sent to the Galyarajanagarindra Institute, a psychiatric treatment center, and stayed there for nearly two months.
Wanchai received a pardon on 4 June 2013 and was to be deported to Singapore.
Media reports of Wanchai’s case:
The Nation, 5 June 2013: “Singaporean jailed on lese majeste charge granted royal pardon“
Malaysia Chronicle, 5 June 2013: “Thailand pardons Singaporean royal insult prisoner“
Bangkok Post, 18 September 2012: “Rich get bail, while poor go to jail“
Prachatai, 6 March 2012: “Surachai will ask PM to seek royal pardon for political prisoners“
Prachatai, 15 October 2011: “Singaporean gets 15 years for lèse majesté“