Sondhi Limthongkul was charged with lese majeste for a speech in 2008. This was somewhat ironic as he has made numerous complaints of lese majeste against others; indeed his whole People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) movement was based on such accusations and claims of disloyalty to the monarchy against others.
Often referred to in the Thai media as a “media tycoon” and a “media firebrand,” this view relates to Sondhi’s role as one of the most high profile leaders of the PAD, a right-wing and rabidly royalist movement. PAD played a role in bringing down the Thaksin Shinawatra government in the lead-up to the 2006 military coup. It also mobilized against the governments led by Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat in 2008, which PAD considered “proxy governments” for Thaksin. PAD eventually brought down Somchai’s government following its occupation of Bangkok’s two airports when it only left the airports following the Constitutional Court’s hasty dissolution of the People’s Power Party, meaning that Somchai’s government collapsed. PAD continued its demonstrations through 2009 and after, becoming even more ultra-royalist and ultra-nationalist.
PAD followers wear yellow shirts to show their loyalty to the king and Sondhi has always declared PAD’s fight as a fight to preserve the monarchy.
On 22 January 2009, his police dossier was reportedly completed relating to a case where Sondhi is accused of lese majeste after he referred to a speech given by Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul (alias Da Torpedo) when he was criticizing her and calling on the police to act against her. Sondhi was released on bail of 300,000 baht pending further decisions by the prosecutors.
On 17 April 2009, the media reported an assassination attempt on Sondhi. Many motives have been suggested (see The Times, 17 April 2009, “Thailand’s Yellow Shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul survives assassination attempt” and The Nation, 17 April 2009, “Sondhi in safe condition now: doctor”).
After numerous delays, in early July 2010, Sondhi was indicted by the public prosecutor for lese majeste. The prosecution brought Sondhi before the Criminal Court after the Office of the Attorney-General recommended that he be indicted for lese majeste. He was released on bail.
In 2010 Sondhi was convicted of defaming Thaksin and handed a six-month jail sentence that was suspended, meaning he stayed out of jail.
Charges have been laid against him related to the airports occupation in 2008, but that case drags on.
In February 2012, the Criminal Court sentenced Sondhi to 20 years for corporate fraud in a case dating back to the 1990s. He appealed the verdict and was released on bail of 10 million baht. His appeal was rejected in 2012 and his sentence reduced. He was again released on bail pending a further appeal.
On 10 July 2012, Sonthi appeared in court on the lese majeste charge. He denied the charge. Back then, PPT observed: Sonthi’s case is a test of sorts. Over the last few years, Article 112 of the Criminal Code and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act have been used to silence speech not only critical of the royal institution, but other dissident speech as well. As a royalist, Sonthi has often been a cheerleader of the royalist elite and its political order. How will he be treated during his trial? How will his trial be conducted?
On 26 September 2012, Sondhi was acquitted on the lese majeste charge.
News on Sondhi’s case:
AFP, 26 September 2012: “Thai ‘Yellow Shirt’ founder cleared of royal slur“
AFP, 21 August 2012: “Thai ‘Yellow Shirt’ founder denies royal slur“
Prachatai, 27 July 2012: “Sondhi to testify in lèse majesté case next month“
AFP, 10 July 2012: “Thai monarchist tried on royal insult charges“
Prachatai, 17 August 2010: “Sondhi Limthongkul’s lèse majesté trial set to start in Nov 2011″
Bangkok Post, 6 July 2010: “Sondhi faces lese majeste case”
National News Bureau, 2 April 2010: “Lèse-majesté case against Sondhi deferred”
Prachatai, 2 April 2010: “Sondhi to be issued with arrest warrant if he fails to report to police by 2 April”
Bangkok Post, 29 September 2009: “Decision on Sondhi case deferred”
The Nation, 22 January 2009, “Attorney to summon Sondhi on lese majeste charge”
Reuters, 24 July 2008, “Thai protest chief arrested over royal insult”
People’s Daily, 17 April 2008, “Anti-Thaksin leader a no-show for lese majeste interrogation”