In a case that dates to 2009 and revealed in late 2012, Prachatai has reported that a Grade 6-educated farmer named Uthai (Prachatai withholds the family name), aged 38, and from Thawat Buri district, Roi Et province “has been tried for allegedly distributing leaflets with offensive content, and expects to hear the court’s ruling in November .”
On 22 November 2012, Uthai was convicted and given a suspended sentence.
The Prachatai’s account shows how lese majeste is used to discipline people at all levels in society and revealed how the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime engaged in a royalist witch hunt.
Uthai denied the “charges during the police investigation and in court.” Remarkably for lese majeste cases, he was “granted bail, using the position of a civil servant he knows as a guarantee, worth 300,000 baht.” He went to trial in August and September 2012.
Prachatai states that Uthai was accused “by Thongchai and Phraiwan Tamphiban, who claimed that they had received the leaflets from him.” This couple put-out sewing work to Uthai’s wife and other villagers and claim to have received the leaflets on a visit to collect work from her and to pay her.
Later, as stated in court, Thongchai said a “village head had asked her whether she had received any leaflets.” He told his wife to “take the leaflets to the village head.” He was later summoned by the police. The village head confirmed and explained:
Sawang Ruengsak, the head of Thongchai’s village, testified that on 29 July 2009 he received a phone call from an official at Chiang Kwan District Office, asking him whether he had seen any lèse majesté leaflets distributed in his village. He told the official that he had not seen such leaflets. An hour later, a Territorial Defence Volunteer came to ask him the same question. So he asked the volunteer about the source of the leaflets, and was told that they came from Thawat Buri district. He then went to ask villagers whether they had seen the leaflets, and met Thongchai’s wife who told him that she had received a set of such leaflets, and brought them from the van’s dashboard to show him. He recalled that the leaflets were of A4 size, but did not remember the number of pages. He found that they contained lèse majesté content, and submitted the leaflets to a Deputy District Chief of Chiang Kwan a day later.
Veera Worawat, Deputy District Chief for Security of Chiang Kwan District, testified that upon receiving the leaflets from the village head, he forwarded them to his superiors for consideration. When the superiors considered that the leaflets would cause insecurity in local areas, he was assigned to make a police complaint at the local police station.
These details are important as they relate to a period following the first red shirt uprising in April 2009, and the Abhisit regime sent the Army and police out to crack down in red shirt areas, seeking to stamp out dissent by using loyalty to the monarchy as a propaganda tool. It seems that Uthai was caught up in that witch hunt.
His lawyers argue that not only was he caught in a political witch hunt but that he was set up. They pointed to Thongchai’s conflicting accounts given to the police and in court. The lawyers argued that the leaflets “could be placed anywhere to incriminate anyone, and in the current political conflicts, lèse majesté charges are often used as a tool for persecution…”. They also pointed to conflicting accounts by other prosecution witnesses and that the dates provided by these witnesses were wrong.
Apparently this case was “submitted … to the Royal Thai Police committee on lèse majesté cases for consideration, and the committee ordered the team to conduct further interrogation.” After further investigation, “the committee resolved to drop the case. However, when the case was later referred to the Roi Et Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, it decided to prosecute the case…”
Uthai claims that he only “got to read the leaflets only when he was summoned to hear the charges there [Thawat Buri police station].” He also states that “he and his family were farmers who worshipped the monarchy…”.
In another startling prosecution innovation, Uthai was asked “why he had Kharom Pholpornklang, a lawyer for the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, as his lawyer…”. The question contains an accusation that having a UDD lawyer denotes guilt and disloyalty.
It was reported at Prachatai that on 22 November, the “Roi Et Provincial Court sentenced Uthai (family name withheld) to three years in prison for lèse majesté, but suspended the jail term for two years.” That he was convicted is a travesty of justice; that he received a suspended sentence is, as PPT reads it, good news and partial recognition that the case against Uthai was pathetic.
Media accounts of Uthai’s case:
Prachatai, 24 November 2012: “Roi Et villager gets suspended jail sentence for lèse majesté”
Prachatai, 11 October 2012: “Roi Et villager to hear court verdict on lèse majesté charges in Nov“