Samak Pante, a 48 year-old farmer, was accused of tearing up a picture of the king and charged with lese majeste. He was convicted on 6 August 2015 and sentenced to 10 years, reduced to 5 for a guilty plea.
When a military court in Chiang Rai began hearing his case it was in spite of the fact that Samak was shown in medical records to be mentally disturbed and with no obvious intent to commit lese majeste.
Samak earlier admitted that he tore up the picture. His lawyer presented medical documents confirming that the defendant suffered mental problems and asked that the case be dropped. The military prosecutor objected and said since the defendant did not immediately plead guilty so the trial should continue.
According to reports in the media, Samak was first diagnosed with serious mental illness at Chiang Rai Hospital and has had to take medication to deal with visual and auditory hallucinations for some time.
A police officer testified that he and the village chief apprehended Somsak tearing up a picture of the king and queen at the entrance to his village. Later reports stated that it was a large picture of the king. He also allegedly destroyed a flower pedestal for the royal couple on 8 July 2014. The policeman stated that Samak had been drinking asked him to undergo a test for illicit drugs because the suspect seemed to him to be mentally abnormal. He was also accused of carrying a knife.
After repeated delays amounting to three months, the military court finally held a witness examination hearing on 8 June 2015. The trial continued, slowly, as the court and prosecutors wanted a guilty plea. The usual entreaty is that a guilty plea will result in a shorter sentence. On 10 July 2015, Samak retracted his earlier plea and confession and pleaded guilty. As reported:
The suspect informed his lawyer that he wanted to retract his confession during the plaintiff’s witness examination because he could no longer wait for the lengthy process of the court and that he wants to case to end as fast as possible.
He decided to plead guilty as charged after the court told him that there are seven more plaintiff’s witnesses who are yet to be testify on the case. So far, four plaintiff’s witnesses have testified.
The military court delivered its verdict on 6 August 2015, as noted above. Prachatai and Khaosod both use headlines stating 5 years as the sentence. This is incorrect as the sentence was halved to 5 years for the required guilty plea.
Media accounts of Somsak’s case:
Prachatai, 6 August 2015: “Military court sends man with mental illness to 5 years in jail under lese majeste”
Khaosod, 6 August 2015: “Man Gets Five Years for Destroying Thai King Portrait”
Prachatai, 10 July 2015: “Lese majeste suspect with mental illness retracts confession”
Prachatai, 8 June 2015: “Thai military court proceeds with trial of mentally ill man accused of lèse majesté”
Prachatai, 13 January 2015: “Chiang Rai military court continues to try lèse majesté suspect despite obvious mental disorder”
Prachatai, 11 December 2014: “Military court takes lèse majesté case involving mentally ill patient“