Thitinant Kaewchantranont‘s story was revealed after it was reported that a gang of ultra-royalist vigilantes stormed the international airport to prevent a “New Zealand-resident Thai woman accused of a lese majeste offence” from leaving on a “flight to Auckland yesterday…”. That was reportedly 17 July 2012. The court case stated it was 12 July 2012 that she acted against the monarchy. On 21 May 2014, she was found guilty.
Some 200 extremists “turned up at Suvarnabhumi airport to protest against her possible departure.” They “picketed outside the airport after learning that Thitinant Kaewchantranont, 63, was due to check in for a Thai Airways International (THAI) flight to Auckland.” It is unclear who mobilized these vigilantes.
The image she is said to have “defiled” using a foot was displayed during a “multi-color” (read ultra-royalist, neo-fascists) rally when the Constitutional Court gave its negative verdict on the legalities of making changes to the charter.
Thitinant is said to have “a history of mental illness” and did not leave Thailand as scheduled because the police had “lodged a lese majeste complaint against her, [and] referred her to Srithanya Hospital in Nonthaburi to see if she is genuinely mentally ill.”
Police said they “would have prevented her from boarding, as they believed she was unfit to leave the country.” The Thai Aiways company said that the “plane’s captain had pledged to refuse to pilot the aircraft if Ms Thitinant was on board, arguing the woman could pose a security risk.”
By mid-August 2012, Thitinant had been diagnosed as mentally ill by psychiatrists. Astoundingly, the question for the royalist judiciary is to decide whether she was mentally ill at the time of the alleged offense or “partially sane,” which may still mean a conviction. At least that is what reasonable people thought would happen.
On 11 March 2014, the Criminal Court began hearing her case under the draconian lese majeste law.
Diagnosed as bipolar since 2003, and first detained in a mental institution for 45 days and the “Women’s Correctional Institute in Bangkok for about a month,” she was bailed with a 300,000 baht surety. However in the report of her conviction, it is stated that she was detained at the Galaya Rajanagarindra Institute during the trial. That is a psychiatric hospital.
Thitinant’s case is the first case of lese majeste that PPT can confirm that has been entirely under the jurisdiction of the Yingluck Shinawatra government. Yingluck, her government and the Puea Thai Party stand condemned for their continued acceptance and use of this feudal law.
On 21 May 2014, she was “found to have made an offensive gesture to an image of … the King outside the Constitutional Court on July 13, 2012, before the court delivered its ruling on the constitutionality of a charter amendment bill.” In other words, she is accused of something that would be pretty much normal in a country where the monarchy is not revered as the lynchpin of a sclerotic political and economic system.
The court admitted that it “was convinced by doctors who provided her treatment that the woman was suffering from bipolar disorder.” But the royalist court still convicted her. There can be no excuse for treating the monarchy in a normal manner.
Indeed the court “initially sentenced her to two years in jail. The prison term was commuted to one year due to her confession.” It always is, because almost no one can have a defense on this political charge. All that counts is contrition and apparent acceptance of the greatness of the monarchy. At least the court displayed a tiny degree of judicial and human good sense by accepting that, although “she is mentally ill,” the jail term could be suspended for three years.
Yet there is no end to the cruelty of the courts on lese majeste for the prosecution appealed the sentence.
On 12 May 2015, the Appeals Court sentenced Thitinan to jail for a year without suspension for stepping on image of the king.
The Appeal Court “decided not to suspend the jail term. It reasoned [that seems the wrong word in this case] that the defendant’s claim of having a mental deficiency and being unaware when committing the crime was unsound. Since the crime is severe and the defendant was partly aware when committing the crime, the court decided not to suspend the jail term.”
In fact, the claim to mental illness was not the defendant’s but was a diagnosis made by a government psychiatrist.
Thitinan’s lawyers got bail for her and she must now take the case to the Supreme Court.
It is unclear if she appealed. In any case, she was released on 27 August 2016. It is also not clear how long she was detained in hospitals and prisons.
Media reports of Thitinant’s case:
Bangkok Post, 27 August 2016: “Three lese majeste prisoners freed”
Yahoo News, 12 May 2015: “Thai court jails mentally ill woman for insulting monarchy”
Prachatai, 12 May 2015: “Court jails mentally ill old woman for stepping on image of the King”
Bangkok Post, 21 May 2014: “NZ resident convicted of lese majeste”
Prachatai, 12 March 2014: “Lèse majesté trial begins for a woman stepping on the King’s picture”
Prachatai, 18 August 2012: “Doctors find woman accused of lèse majesté insane”
The Australian, 25 July 2012: “Concerns NZ resident held in Thailand”
Phuket News, 21 July 2012: “Rak Phuket group files lese majeste petition against Thai-born Kiwi”
Bangkok Post, 18 July 2012: “Lese majeste suspect admitted to hospital“