Bundith Arniya or Jerseng Sae Kow faced an ongoing case of lese majeste for several years. It was eventually finished with Bundith found guilty on 17 February 2014. However, he was again charged with lese majeste on 19 February 2015 for another alleged offense following his suspended sentencing on the first case.
Bundith is a well-known translator, mainly of books about socialism. He claims that the first time he was accused of lese majeste was in 1975.
His first case related to alleged comments made on 22 September 2003 when he apparently objected to the display of the king’s photo in a meeting and distributed documents promoting democracy. He was arrested, held without bail for 98 days before getting bail. The complaint against him came from then Election Commissioner Wassana Permlap. Eventually he was charged with lese majeste and sentenced to 4 years in March 2006. However, he was put on probation because he had no criminal record and was already 64 years old and considered mentally ill.
The secretary of the Privy Council, the plaintiff in the case, is said to have appealed the case to a higher court, not wanting Bundith to have probation. This appeal was reportedly heard in a closed courtroom.
According to information received by PPT, over the period since the initial allegations, he was detained seven times and beaten while in custody.
In March 2006, the Court of First Instance judged Bundith to be guilty and sentenced him to four years in prison. However, the Court chose to suspend this sentence due to his claim of schizophrenia. In 2009, the Appeal Court reversed the suspension of the sentence on the basis that Bundith was aware of the illegality of his alleged actions and sentenced him to two years and eight months in prison. Unlike many other Article 112 cases, throughout the appeal process, Bundith has been permitted bail by the Appeal Court.
On 17 February 2014 it was reported that Bundith was essentially back at square 1. This decision by the Supreme Court found the “73 year old writer guilty of insulting the monarchy and handed him a suspended sentence of three years in prison.”
Bundith’s reaction to the verdict was said to be “mixed. He voiced his disappointment that the court found him guilty of the alleged crime, but expressed relief that the prison term has been averted.” He added: “I am glad that I didn′t have to die in prison…”.
The report adds that the “trial of Mr. Bundit had been largely conducted in secrecy, and the media had been dissuaded from reporting about the case thanks to strict lese majeste laws.”
His second case saw the military’s Judge Advocate General’s Office file charges against the now 74 year-old for asking questions about the constitutional monarchy at a seminar.
The seminar, organized in Bangkok by Waranchai Chokchana, was on 26 November 2014. It attracted just over a dozen people. Bundith was reportedly arrested at the seminar before he had even finished his speech, although the prosecutor alleged that the lese majeste comment was made after the panel ended. Prachatai reported that Bundith stated:
“My point is now Thai people are separated into two sides: The one which is in favour of a monarchy which does not abide by the law, as the head of the state…. I have a question: between keeping the monarchy and XXXX, which one…” Bundit was arrested by police before he could finish his sentence. (The phrase in italics is a paraphrase and the black highlight covers words that are censored in order to avoid repeating the alleged lèse majesté content.)
According to the military’s prosecutor, saying that the monarchy does not abide by the law and to ask about the two choices constitute contempt of the king and lese majeste.
As in his previous case, Bundith has been released on bail. This may be because of his poor health. As noted above, he has mental health problems and he has only one kidney and has to carry a urine drainage bag.
This case continues. Lawyers argued that Bundith was mentally unfit for trial. Revealingly, before a military court, a psychiatrist from the Galya Rajanagarindra Institute testified that the writer suffers from chronic mental illness which causes him to have anxiety, strange logic and to behave in bizarre ways. That seems clear enough. Despite this, the psychiatrist concluded that Bundith could stand on trial. The military court ruled that the case would proceed with the trial.
However, in an unusual decision, Bundith was released on 400,000 baht bail due to his age and poor health.
Bundith’s third case began on 12 September 2015, when police detained him for making comments about the need for equality of all classes in a new constitution. Apparently equality frightens Thailand’s military bosses, especially when discussing the junta’s draft constitution.
Police arrested the writer for allegedly making comments about the Monarchy while talking about human dignity at a political seminar. The seminar was at Thammasat University and was about the junta-sponsored constitution drafting process.
Police agitation over the comments at the seminar concerns Bundith’s proposed five principles for the draft constitution, one of which is about human dignity. The royalist police allege that the comment about human dignity allegedly contained references to the monarchy.
Police officers and soldiers who spied on the seminar were not amused with Bundith’s suggestion that the new constitution should contain the idea that people of all classes shall be equal and all are equal owners of the country. Initially, the comments did not result in a lese majeste charge. Now, however, the mood has changed and this statement, which would be entirely unremarkable in modern and civilized nations, is considered to insult the dead king.
We guess the junta and/or the palace is behind the change of position on Bundith’s case.
According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, the Military Court of Bangkok on 16 November 2016 denied the bail request for Bundith. He will be detained in Bangkok Remand Prison until 29 November 2016, with the possibility of the custody being renewed. When he gets to court, Bundith will be in a military court because, as ludicrous as it sounds, the military junta deems “insulting the royal family is deemed a matter of national security and tribunals will continue hearing such cases.”
Lese majeste strips everyone of all dignity.
Media accounts of Bundith’s case:
Prachatai, 16 November 2016: “Updated: Embattled 71-year-old writer arrested for third time under lèse majesté law”
Khaosod, 16 November 2016: “Elderly Writer Arrested for Lese Majeste a Year After Alleged Offense”
Bangkok Post, 8 May 2016: “Caught in the madness of the system”
Prachatai, 12 February 2016: “Lèse majesté trial of elderly writer with psychosis continues”
Prachatai, 13 September 2015: “74-year-old detained for saying all Thais should be equal”
Prachatai, 20 February 2015: “Old man indicted for lèse majesté for asking questions about constitutional monarchy”
Khaosod, 17 February 2014: “Writer Gets Suspended Sentence For Lese Majeste”
Prachatai, 26 July 2013: “Writer convicted of lèse majesté to face final verdict at Supreme Court“