เอกชัย หงส์กังวาน/Akechai Hongkangwarn (35) was arrested by police on 11 March 2011, and eventually charged under Article 112 – lese majeste – for being in possession of 100 illegal VCDs, a CD writer and 10 Wikileaks documents. His arrest followed a Red Siam rally (on 10 March 2011). He was convicted on 28 March 2013. He was released from prison on 15 November 2015.
He was allegedly found to be in possession of the banned VCDs, which were copies of the Australian ABC program on the monarchy. He was accused of having these for sale after undercover police coaxed him into selling a copy to them.
The ABC program and the Wikileaks documents relate to the monarchy and to the crown prince. See here, here, here, here and here on Wikileaks and the linking of the ABC and Wikileaks here. Use the search function at PPT and enter Wikileaks for more related posts.
Akechai was bailed by his 82 year-old father with legal assistance from the Ratsadonprasong law office group on 17 March 2011. Bail was set at 500,000 baht.
According to the Rajadamnoen web board, Akechai (also rendered as Aekachai, Ekachai and Ekchai) has long opposed the lese majeste law.
His trial began on 17 July 2012 and was quickly deferred until 20 November 2012, with the judges suggesting a change of defense “by saying that he had no intention to defame the monarchy but that he merely wanted to share information.” This was because the defense promised to air all the evidence and call Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda, Privy Counselor Siddhi Savetsila, and royalist ideologue Anand Panyarachun to testify in relation to a Wikileaks cable. The judges were horrified and wanted a way out as they sought to censor the evidence.
His lawyers went to the Constitutional Court in an attempt to have the constitutionality of the lese majeste law tested. As expected, in October 2012, his appeals were rejected by the politicized Court. He again appeared in court on 22 February 2013.
The trial judges “deemed the content of the materials misleading and defamatory for the monarchy.” This is a royalist fabrication that the materials are misleading. In fact, the Wikileaks cables and the documentary all use material directly from the palace and from the mouths of royalist flunkies to paint what is a more accurate picture of the monarchy than the usual treacle that pours from the palace’s propaganda machine. That these insider accounts may be defamatory says more about the palace than of anything else. The propaganda-defending courts noted that:
The country’s constitution and criminal code stipulated that His Majesty the King is the head of state and highly revered. No one shall violate or use rights and liberties for any adverse effects. The state and its people have duties to uphold the monarchy system forever…. Any defaming speech causing irritation to … His Majesty shall not be acceptable,” the judge read out the verdict.
As usual, the royalist courts manipulate the constitution’s words in order to lock up someone considered guilty of telling the truth. Akechai is reported as being “upset by the court’s decision as his intention was merely to spread neutral and objective information produced by foreign media outlet to the public.” The court’s ruling is a reminder that truth shall not be spoken.
Sulak Sivaraksa commented that “the punishment for lese majeste is too severe. The monarchy should also be for open for criticism as it is important for democracy…”.
In responding to his conviction, the 112 Family Network has raised “concerns on the verdict of Akechai mentioning the inviolable status of the monarchy that provided the duty of the state and Thai citizens to maintain the monarchy not only by law but also by conscience.” It seems that Thais are now required to monitor their conscious and unconscious for “evil thoughts.”
Akechai appealed his conviction and asked for bail. This was refused on 1 July 2013. On 8 May 2014, the Appeals Court upheld his conviction and sentence. He appealed to the Supreme Court.
Finally, on 9 October 2015, it was reported that the Supreme Court had ruled that Akechai’s jail term should be reduced. The Court re-affirmed the guilty verdict but disagreed with the Appeal Court on the sentence, saying it was too severe. The Supreme Court sentenced him to four years reduced by a third.
Akechai was released from prison on 15 November 2015. There’s some confusion on the reporting of his release and time served. We think it is correct that his release was four months early.
He’s a brave guy, telling Prachatai “that he still thinks that he is innocent.’ He stated: “I chose to fight because I feel that I have done nothing wrong.” He added:
There were hesitations, the Supreme Court took seven months to accept the case after the Appeal Court. At that time, [I] was discouraged, questioning why it took so long, and people were saying that next April pardons might be granted, so just give in. But eventually, I decided that as [I have] already fought this far then [I should] do it to the very end. People thought I was stupid.
… leaders of Redshirt umbrella group United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, or UDD, rarely visited him or other ordinary Redshirts in prison, while some imprisoned UDD leaders enjoyed a relatively privileged lifestyle behind bars.
“The UDD leaders sip coffee and play chess. Yet they talk about equality. It’s not even equal in prison,” Ekachai said. “What does this mean?”
The 40-year-old also blamed UDD leaders for failing to organize effective opposition to the junta, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the putsch.
“It’s disappointing. When the coup occurred, they simply disappeared,” said Ekachai, who insists he is not a UDD member but simply a Redshirt, with a sarcastic chuckle. “It was just too lame, and if it continues to be like this, military coup will recur again and again. It seems all too easy [to stage a coup], and we’ll probably be stuck in this cycle for the next century.”
Media reports on Akechai’s case:
Khaosod,23 November 2015: “Freed Lese Majeste Offender Loses Faith in UDD, Pins Hope on ‘Ordinary Folks’”
Prachatai, 16 November 2015: “Lese majeste convict freed after 2 years, 8 months imprisonment”
Prachatai, 9 October 2015: “Man jailed for selling CDs defaming monarchy to be released next month”
Bangkok Post, 8 May 2014: “VCD vendor loses lese majeste appeal”
Prachatai, 3 July 2013: “Court denies bail for Wikileaks cables’ seller convicted of lèse majesté”
ANN, 29 March 2013: “Thai jailed for lese majeste”
NNT, 29 March 2013: “Man jailed for distributing documentary about royal family”
Bangkok Post, 29 March 2013: “Man jailed for selling royal documentary”
Prachatai, 29 March 2013: “Three year sentence for selling CDs defaming monarchy”
Radio Australia, 29 March 2013: “Thai man jailed for selling ABC story on monarchy”
ABC News: 28 March 2013: “Thai man jailed for defaming monarchy”
Herald Sun, 28 March 2013: “Thai man jailed over ABC show which court said defamed Thai royal family”
AFP, 28 March 2013: “Thai man jailed for selling royal documentary: lawyer”
AP, 28 March 2013: “Thailand sentences man to 3 years for royal insult”
Reuters, 28 March 2013: “Thai man jailed for lese-majeste over Australian news footage”
The Nation,23 July 2013: “Social critic urges judges to make lese majeste case”
Prachatai, 1 December 2012: “Updates on lèse majesté and computer crime cases”
The Nation, 10 October 2012: “Constitution Court rules Article 112 not unconstitutional”
Bangkok Post, 10 October 2012: “Court: Article 112 is constitutional”
AFP, 10 October 2012: “Thai court upholds contentious royal slur law”
IFEX, 25 July 2012: “Constitutional challenge to controversial lese majeste laws”
Bangkok Post, 20 July 2012: “Evidence kept under wraps despite defence urging”
Prachatai, 20 July 2012: “Court defers lese majeste case, defence advised”
The Nation, 18 July 2012: “Lese majeste trial begins of man caught selling ‘defamatory’ video”
Bangkok Post, 22 March 2011: “Lese majeste for sale of documentary”
AP, 22 March 2011: “Thai man arrested for selling videos of TV news program about monarchy”
AFP, 22 March 2011: “Thai man arrested for selling monarchy documentary”