Aged 39, and an admirable working class, single mother, Patnaree happens to be the mother of student activist Sirawith Seritiwat of the New Democracy Movement.
This fact has much to do with the case as Sirawith has been a thorn in the military junta’s side for some time, and the junta is keen to shut him up and send a message to all activists who dare oppose the military junta. The very nasty threat is: oppose us and we will come after you and your family. This point was made by a junta thug, with the chief of police warning all anti-junta activists that “their family members can be prosecuted, just like Patnaree Charnkij, an activist’s mother who has been charged under the lèse majesté law.”
The police initially claimed that there were “reasonable grounds” – nothing is “reasonable” in lese majeste cases – to believe that Patnaree had committed lese majeste. However, the police refused to comment in detail. They stated that the investigation was ongoing and “confidential.”
She answered the arrest warrant on 6 May before being released on 500,000 baht bail on 8 May. Accounts say that the bail money was partly raised by donations.
The police accuse Patnaree of being contacted via Facebook chat by activist and lese majeste suspect Burin Intin, who sent her messages that were deemed by the (thought) police as somehow insulting to the monarchy. Patnaree did not respond to those messages. The police say that her failure to reprimand Burin meant she condoned the sentiment, and that this non-act counted as lese majeste.
Accordingly, her case became the first we know of, where silence was considered lese majeste.
Social media accounts saw the charge as a brazen and politically-motivated allegation.
As PPT put it at the time, in some previous cases, the regime manufactured a lese majeste case that has no basis in law. Even if one rejects the law as it stands, there is nothing in it that condemns silence. Rather, the law is meant to maintain silence. In this sense, there is no “reasoning” involved in this allegation.
The allegation and eventual charge is a fabrication and a concoction. Having failed to force Patnaree to silence her son, the junta’s thugs went further.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights posted an English-language account of the military dictatorship’s ridiculous allegations of lese majeste against Patnaree. In part it stated:
In the [Facebook] chat, Mr. Burin who used his Facebook account named “Burin Intin” had posted messages obviously deemed defamatory to the monarchy. During the chat, Mr. Burin had also wrote “Don’t criticise me for saying all these”, and a reply had come from a Facebook account “Nuengnuch Chankij writing ‘Ja’. Such reply implied the acknowledgement and agreement with the alleged posts made by Mr. Burin. Therefore, judging from the circumstances and the acts of the user of Facebook account named “Nuengnuch Chankij”, the user is an accomplice to Mr. Burin in the act to post the messages defamatory, insulting, or threatening to the King, the Queen, and the Heir-apparent and to bring into a computer system data which is an offence against national security. Had the Facebook user “Nuengnuch Chankij” not agreed with the alleged posts made by Mr. Burin, she would have stopped him from posting the messages or blamed him for doing so. Instead, her reply “Ja” simply infers her consent (to the act).
The police claimed that the word “ja” constitutes lese majeste. Predictably, social media ridiculed this. The police responded, saying their own notification of charges was wrong or at best misleading. A relatively low-ranked police officer states: “We insist Ms Patnaree did not utter just one word as reported earlier. There’s more to the conversation which we can’t reveal at this stage…”. The officer then threatened the media and the defendant’s lawyers: “Those who said she was charged because of the word ‘ja’ are spreading a lie and they are liable to prosecution.”
By December 2016, the case still seemed to revolve around the word “ja.” A report states that “Human Rights Watch translated this word as a non-committal, colloquial ‘yes’ in the Thai language,” while the lese majeste police say the word “shows that she accepted or agreed with the message and failed to report Burin to the authorities.”
Both are wrong. The use of “ja” or “ka” or “krup” is an acknowledgement of another’s statement. It is not a “yes” or an agreement. These words do not imply agreement or disagreement.
Patnaree has denied the charges and vowed to fight the case.
After widespread expressions of disbelief and anger at the regime’s tactics, from abroad and in Thailand, the case went quiet. Then, on 15 July 2016, the police contradicted all of their earlier claims, failed to produce any more evidence, and decided not to press charges against Patnaree. However, the case was sent to military prosecutors. They decides to indict her.
On 14 December 2016, a military court held a deposition hearing on the lese majeste case against Patnaree. This tool of the junta masquerading as a “court” has decided to hear the case in secret, announcing “it would proceed with the hearing in camera, allowing only Patnaree and her defence lawyer to be in the courtroom without any observers since the case is related to the lèse majesté law.”
Media accounts of Patnaree’s case:
Prachatai, 16 December 2016: “Military court questions activist’s mother behind closed door”
Khaosod, 15 July 2016: “Police Drop Royal Defamation Case Against Activist’s Mother”
Prachatai, 15 July 2016: “Police refuse to prosecute anti-junta activist’s mother for lèse majesté”
BBC, 20 May 2016: “The Thai cleaning lady facing prison for ‘I see’”
Bangkok Post, 10 May 2016: “NCPO chips away at right to privacy”
Bangkok Post, 10 May 2016: “NCPO insists Patnaree case has grounds, deplores ‘campaign’”
Khaosod, 10 May 2016: “All Donations Welcome for Political Prisoners (Even From Thaksin), Says Lawyer”
Prachatai, 9 May 2016: “Police to activists: take Ja New’s mom as example”
Bangkok Post, 8 May 2016: “Regime defends lese majeste arrest”
Khaosod, 8 May 2016: “Anti-Junta Activist’s Mother to be Released on Bail”
Bangkok Post, 7 May 2016: “Police: More to conversation than ‘ja’”
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 7 May 2016: “Detained mother of pro-democracy activist charged with lèse-majesté”
HRW, 6 May 2016: “Thailand: Junta Arrests Activist’s Mother”
Khaosod, 6 May 2016: “Activist’s Mother Defamed Monarchy With Her Silence, Police Say”
Khaosod, 6 May 2016: “Anti-Junta Activist’s Mother Charged With Royal Defamation“