On 20 August 2015, the Kamphaeng Phet provincial court issued arrest warrants for Kittiphop Sitthirat, 23, Atsadaphon Sitthirat, 45, and Wiset Phutthasa, 30, on lese majeste accusations. Later, a fourth name was added, Noppharit (surname not known), 28. Some were arrested on 21 August 2015. Their case has now come to court.
They were accused of having made false claims about the monarchy, falsifying public documents, fraud, and impersonating officers from the Bureau of the Royal Household. In fact, they are accused of using Princess Sirindhorn’s name and so we call them the Sirindhorn 4.
As readers will know, there have been a myriad of cases over the past year about similar alleged activities. All, however, have related to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, and have seen several deaths in custody and dozens jailed. This is the first we know of that is about claims allegedly made in Sirindhorn’s name. For those who follow the successionist debate, this case raises a niggling question regarding the alleged rift between Sirindhorn and her brother.
Two of the suspects are said to have cooperated with two others to claim that they belonged to the aristocracy and were related to the royal family with the rank of Mom Luang. They allegedly said they were working for the Royal Household Bureau. Kittiphop and Wiset are alleged to have made these claims to the head of the Pa Sai Ngam monastery in Kamphaeng Phet and also that they could invite members of the royal family to participate in religious events at the temple. In return they asked for 100,000 baht in “expenses.” All of this is related to claims about Princess Sirindhorn.
It is stated that all have denied lese majeste charges when they appeared in court on 21 December 2015.
Other police allegations against them are that “the gang” committed fraud by claiming that they were collecting funds to build a monastery and that this was used to “trick” high-ranking officials and others into donating money. The suspects reportedly collected about a million baht.
Noppharit, the fourth suspect, told the court that he does not know why he has been arrested and charged. He states that he does not know the other three suspects and is not involved in the alleged crimes. He was arrested on 21 August 2015. His family requested bail. As usual, the court denied it because the case involves the monarchy and there was a flight risk. All of this is the standard and cruel court practice in lese majeste cases.
Lawyers for Noppharit made an obvious submission, asking the court to consider whether the case falls under Article 112 since that law does not apply to Princess Sirindhorn:
Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, Heir-apparent or Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.
She is none of those.
As has often been the case in the use of the lese majeste, the court chose to ignore the actual law and dismissed the request, saying “under the current procedure, it is not yet necessary to consider the request from the fourth suspect.”
The next hearing in the case will be on 5 February 2016.