Royal Arch Arson

On 31 January 2018, the six teenagers were found guilty of lese majeste, criminal association and arson. They were found guilty because they were made to plead guilty. By February 2018, 11 persons were caught up by the case and eight persons have been convicted.

At least 6 appealed the sentences. Stunningly, the Appeals Court dropped the lese majeste charges against them. They were convicted of other charges (see below).

On 16 August 2017, the prosecutor of the Provincial Court in Phon District of Khon Kaen Province “charged eight people of [lese majeste]… for burning royal arches.” They were arrested on 17 May 2017. It was alleged that:

… six of the eight, who are between 18-20 years old of age, burned several arches erected in honour of the late King Bhumibol and King Vajiralongkorn in Chonnabot District of Khon Kaen on 3 May 2017. While the two other are accused allegedly preparing to burn another similar arch in Pueai Noi District.

In addition, they faced charges of criminal association and destruction of public property.

A Reuters report initially referred to five detainees:  Chirayut, Rattathammanoon, Akkarapong (withholding surnames due to privacy concerns) – and a 14 year-old boy, all from Khon Kaen. It adds that two other suspects, Setha and Preecha, were “still at large.” Khaosod stated that seven people, including a 14-year-old boy, are in military custody on suspicion of setting fire to a roadside portrait. An internal memo circulated by the Ministry of Interior Affairs identified four of them as Chirayu Sinpho, 19; Ratrthathammanoon Srihabutr, 20; Akkharapong Aryukong, 19; and a 14-year minor.

It is reported that four confessed and said they were hired and paid 200 baht each to burn the arch.

The 14-year-old boy had been charged with lese majeste, making him the youngest ever victim. His trial was conducted in secret.

On 15 November 2017, the Provincial Court of Phon District in Khon Kaen sentenced Noopin, 64, and Chatchai, 25, (surnames withheld due to privacy concerns) to five years imprisonment on lese majeste charges. The two were also charged with criminal association and destruction of public property. As usual, because the two were held until they agreed to plead guilty, the court halved the jail terms and “also confiscated a pickup truck from the two.”

The reporting is, however, somewhat strange. This is what Prachatai states:

According to Noopin, he was hired by a man named Pricha to burn an unidentified edifice at a specific location in the province and was told to invite another person for the task. Therefore he invited Chatchai.

When he arrived at the location, he discovered that it was the royal arch with the image of King Bhumibol. Therefore, he changed his mind and drove back to his house.

So it isn’t entirely clear if they did plead guilty as this sounds like a not guilty statement. Nor is this clear in these paragraphs what they agree they did.

On 31 January 2018, the Khon Kaen Provincial Court sentenced 6 teenagers to six to 10 years in prison each, but because they finally entered guilty pleas, the court halved the jail term. The jail terms of five out of the six who are under 20 years of age was reduced to three years and four months.

Forcing guilty pleas is a normalized and standardized practice in lese majeste cases and a perversion of legal process. The teenagers reportedly confessed “that they were hired by a man named Pricha and other persons. They claimed that Pricha paid them 200 baht each to burn the arches.”

Then, in September 2018 came the astounding news that the group of six had appealed and the lese majeste charges were ditched. Given the quite odd reporting mentioned above and the sudden dropping of the lese majeste cases, one can imagine that there’s been pressure brought on the court. And from on high.

The six still have to serve lengthy jail terms for damaging public property: 9 years instead of 11 and a half; 6years instead of 7 years and 8 months; and 3 years instead of 3 years and 4 months.

Media accounts of the case:

Channel NewsAsia, 20 September 2018: “Six Thais acquitted after being accused of torching king portraits

SCMP, 20 September 2018: “Thailand drops royal insult charges against six people for burning portraits of kings

Prachatai, 31 January 2018: “6 teenagers convicted of lèse-majesté for burning King portraits

Bangkok Post, 31 January 2018: “Six jailed for setting fire to kings’ portraits

Prachatai, 16 November 2017: “2 men received 2.5 years imprisonment for attempting to burn royal arch

Reuters, 18 August 2017: “Thai 14-year-old boy and 8 others charged with royal defamation

Prachatai, 17 August 2017: “Eight accused of royal defamation for burning royal arches

Khaosod, 22 May 2017: “14 Year Old in Custody for Allegedly Burning King Portrait

Prachatai, 22 May 2017: “Human rights lawyers condemn arrest of 4 lèse majesté suspects

Reuters, 20 May 2017: “Five arrested in Thailand for burning portrait of late king