Lese majeste convict gets pardon

5 06 2013

An AFP report states that Wanchai Saetan, a Singaporean tourist guide who has lived in Thailand for several decades, was pardoned on Tuesday.

Wanchai, then around 60, was sentenced following a closed court and secret trial sometime in  26 February 2010. Even his wife was prevented from attending. Like many others, he was refused bail while awaiting his (political) court appearance.

News of this sentencing only became public in 2011. He was sentenced to 15 years jail for allegedly disseminating leaflets deemed offensive to the monarchy.

On 6 April 2009, the Singaporean, who has lived in Thailand for over 30 years and speaks fluent Thai, was arrested near Government House during a protest rally of the red shirts and charged with distributing 6-page leaflets strongly critical of the 2006 coup.

His outrage over the seizure of the airport by the People’s Alliance for Democracy in late 2008, saw him write the claimed document. The original version contained over 50 pages. He distributed the leaflets at more than 10 schools and universities.

According to friends, Wanchai was not affiliated to any political group, but had been to a few UDD rallies. He was reportedly seized by UDD guards when he distributed leaflets and they took him to the police.

At his sentencing, the court said that the defendant deserved severe punishment, and gave him a jail term of 15 years. However, as he had confessed during the investigation and his testimony was considered somewhat beneficial to court proceedings, the jail term was reduced by one-third to 10 years.

On 5 March 2010, the public prosecutor brought another case against him, this time for distributing the same leaflets at Kasetsart University Demonstration School on 16 February 2009. On 28 February 2011, he was given a 10-year prison sentence, which was reduced to 5 years because he had pleaded guilty. The total sentence was thus 15 years.

Remarkably, it is expected that Wanchai will be deported “because his residence permit has expired…”, being sent back to Singapore.

Updated: U.N. agency visits lese majeste detainees

24 05 2013

A document seen by PPT indicates that the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has visited seven lese majeste detainees.

The officers visited Darunee Charnchoensilpakul for an hour on 8 May 2013, and Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, Thanthawut Thaweewarodomkul, Wanchai Saetan, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Yuttapoom Martnork (this is the only name not appearing in PPT’s lists) and Akechai Hongkangwarn, also for an hour.

The OHCHR heard from all the prisoners and it is hoped it will relay issues to the government and will continue to encourage the Thai government to ensure that the lese majeste law meets the country’s international human rights obligations.

Lese majeste and elite (in)justice

18 09 2012

Achara Ashayagachat at the Bangkok Post has a worthy op-ed on a court appearance by a lese majeste prisoner. The article makes a point PPT has mentioned several times: the double standards involved when the political crime of lese majeste is involved. It can be read with a report of the trial, also in the Bangkok Post (PPT will post separately on the trial). The case involves 41 year-old computer programmer Surapak Puchaisaeng.

Surapak was arrested on 2 Sept 2011. Surapak’s case carries the dubious distinction of being the first lese majeste arrest under the Yingluck Shinawatra government, although investigations began under the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.

Achara notes that the “police have accused him of posting defamatory remarks about the royal family on Facebook several months ago. He was denied access to a lawyer on the day of his arrest.” And, of course, in the usual practice – unconstitutional to be sure – he has been “denied bail four times, even though, for his last request, the last bail guarantor was the Justice Ministry.” As PPT has pointed out before, the reason for this, as in many lese majeste cases, is that  Surapak refuses to plead guilty, so the royalist court uses the refusal of bail as a form of torture in trying to get a guilty plea.

Achara points out that Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, the late Ampol Tangnopakul,  and Wanchai Saetan have suffered similar refusals of bail. She could have added Joe Gordon, Surachai Danwattananusorn and several others to the list.

In addition, Achara points out that others “who are routinely denied bail” are the “political prisoners” at the “Temporary Prison at Laksi _ most of whom are grass-roots supporters of the red-shirt movement facing hefty penalties and long prison terms _ face the same situation.”

She notes that “their legal battles for bail have rarely been brought up by the mainstream media.” And she makes the all too obvious point that rich kids get off, get bail, get slapped on the wrist, even when they are responsible for multiple deaths in, say, road crashes.  She makes the points for several cases over several years, showing political and class bias that is the stock-in-trade for the judiciary:

With so many cases pointing to a double standard, it is understandable and inevitable for the public to feel that the legal system is unfair to the poor, and unjust to prisoners of conscience. Justice delayed is justice denied. Sadly, this is not the exception in our our legal system, but the norm that routinely applies to the weak and poor.

Nat Sattayapornpisut released in April

4 08 2012

Prachatai reports that Nat Sattayapornpisut was finally released from jail in April 2012 after serving 2 years and 4 months on lese majeste charges.

Nat’s case goes back to 2008, although it was only in October 2009 that the Criminal Court has agreed to a request by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to detain Nat , then aged 27, under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act after he was found to have sent offensive clips to a blog called StopLeseMajeste.

The DSI began investigations on 29 August 2008 that led to YouTube clips and the arrest of Suwicha Thakor and the discovery of an alias StopLeseMajeste. The latter was believed to belong to “Emilio Esteban,” a Briton living in Spain, who had been in email contact with Suwicha. Between 19 April 2008 and 15 September 2009, Esteban allegedly published contents offensive to the throne on his blogs and called for the abolition of the lese majeste law. The police gained access to Esteban’s email, where they allegedly found that on 21-23 July 2009 Nat had sent him three “offensive clips” which were then posted by Esterban.

DSI initially charged Nat with offenses under the Computer Crimes Act—disseminating pornographic materials through the internet – which we assume to be the naked pictures of various royals and associates that have long been in circulation.  He was eventually bailed out by his relatives with 200,000 baht in cash but a month later was summoned to the DSI, and further charged with lese majeste.

These charges are interesting as the website includes, in addition to some of the most childish clips that appeared at YouTube about the king, clips involving the crown prince and his various consorts in compromising situations as well as other royals in similar situations. Some of the clips are real and have been surreptitiously circulated in Thailand, while others are concocted and silly. Involving the crown prince’s private life has seen others jailed (such as Harry Nicolaides and Akechai Hongkangwarn).

There was very little news on Nat’s case until well after his release from prison in April 2012 and then via this Prachatai report.

It states that Nat went to court on 14 December 2009. He went alone and without a lawyer.  Without support and advice, when he was asked by court officials what he had decided to do he was also told that if he confessed, a verdict would be delivered immediately. He knew that “this kind of case was almost impossible to fight.” He confessed. That day he was found “guilty on three counts for sending three e-mails on 22-23 July 2009, and sentenced him to 9 years in prison, but reduced the term by half as he had pleaded guilty.

Nat’s time in prison was extremely difficult for him. Prachatai reports that “During his time, he got to know other ‘Section 112’ prisoners, starting with Wanchai Saetan who was in the same zone, Worawut Thanangkorn who was moved to the zone in early 2011, and then Thanthawut Thaweewarodomkul.  It was Thanthawut who told visitors about Nat and Wanchai.  As a result, from mid-2011 onward, Nat, who had previously been rarely visited, had more visitors, including red shirts and other concerned people, and that lifted his spirits.”

Nat now visits his compatriots who remain imprisoned on lese majeste charges.

Free them!

23 03 2012

Prachatai provides brief details of a letter by eight lese majeste convicts to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra “to help seek a royal pardon to ‘free them from suffering’.”

Those seeking a pardon are: Surachai Danwatthananusorn (serving 7.5 years in prison), Suchart Nakbangsai (3 years), Joe Gordon (2 .5 years), Suriyan Kokpuey (3 years and 15 days), Nat Sattayapornpisut (4.5 years), Sathian Rattanawong (3 years), Wanchai Saetan (15 years) and Darunee Charnchoengsilpakul (15 years)

Apparently in a first-ever joint appeal for pardon, they have written:

Now all of us feel guilty and are very sorry for what we have done wrong. So we have decided not to fight our cases, and have pleaded guilty so that the court would decide on our punishment to end court proceedings, and we could exercise our right to petition for a royal pardon….

Under the Criminal Procedure Code, these people can “seek a royal pardon through the Minister of Justice, or the Minister or Cabinet can, on their own initiative, propose to HM the King a royal pardon for convicts.”

The Nation in an article by Avudh Panananda says that the Yingluck government is in a “a dilemma over whether to act on granting the royal pardon for eight lese majeste convicts who happen to be its red allies.” The Nation report spends a large amount of space discussing the novelty of the joint appeal:

Yet the eight have chosen to go through the long and uncharted route for their pardon. Furthermore, they want the government to intervene on their behalf. They specifically called attention to their letter two weeks after the government remained silent on the matter.

Avudh claims that:

After the vetting of petitions by relevant authorities, His Majesty the King would grant pardon to every case. Thai and alien offenders often walked out of prison within a month.

PPT isn’t sure that this is a true statement. It sounds more like royal posterior polishing in the public domain. Reader knowledge on this would be appreciated. One reason we wonder about this is that the report then states:

Even if the government agrees to intervene and issue a pardon decree, the process will take months, perhaps even a year to complete.

Months, years? So what is it?

The report states that none of the government leaders “want the political hot potato dumped in their lap. PM Yingluck appears clueless that the letter was addressed and sent to her.”

In another statement that is made but isn’t justified, Avudh states:

The eight see themselves as political prisoners, hence their demand for the government’s intervention to resolve their legal predicament. But the government is duty-bound to look beyond personal and political ties. Under domestic and international laws, the eight are convicts who can not be classified and treated as political prisoners.

We think Avudh is making this up. As far as we can tell, the Thai laws on political prisoners are non-existent and the only criteria that were developed were those of January this year. Internationally, political prisoners tend to be defined as those who are jailed because they have opposed or criticized their government. That would include criticizing a monarch or a political system. This is the approach PPT has taken.

Amnesty International talks of prisoners of conscience, and this refinement is reserved for those who act peacefully in their politics. None of these prisoners in Thailand appear to fall outside that definition, although AI in Thailand is hopeless and doesn’t apply its own definition.

Equally, though, there are political prisoners, recognized by the U.N., as having taken up arms in freedom struggles. Those supporting Palestinians and Burmese seeking freedom have used a broader definition than AI. The Council of Europe has been debating the term for several years. If any reader knows more, let us know.

In the end, it seems Avudh is making this claim up for political gain. You see this again in the final paragraph of the story:

Abandoning the eight is tantamount to political suicide as the red shirts will condemn the government as ungrateful. But rescuing them will create a dangerous precedent and make it pointless to enforce the lese majeste law.

As much as we wished that the lese majeste law would become pointless by granting a pardon, we think Avudh is again being politicized in approach.

The bottom line is: these political prisoners should be freed.

Free the political prisoners!

6 03 2012

At Prachatai, there is a report that political jailed activist Surachai Danwattananusorn is about to “petition the government to seek a royal pardon for all political prisoners including those jailed for lèse majesté offences.”

Surachai is to write to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to have Minister of Justice Pracha Phromnok to seek the royal pardon.

The letter is planned to be “signed by eight lèse majesté convicts and defendants including Surachai himself. The others are Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, Joe Gordon, Sathian Rattanawong, Wanchai Saetan, Nat Sattayapornpisut, Suchart Nakbangsai and Darunee Charnchoensilpakul.

PPT believes that such a move will bring much needed pressure on the government and the palace to consider the plight of Thailand’s political prisoners, many of who are victims of the draconian political crime that is lese majeste. PPT doubts the palace is in any mood to respond positively, as it harbors a deep fear that it is under threat from republicanism.


PAD and the airport saga

24 02 2012

Remember when the People’s Alliance for Democracy occupied parliament, Government House, a bunch of southern airports and then Bangkok’s airports back in 2008? While it isn’t a complete account, see here. All of that began in late March 2008 as PAD reactivated itself and joined with the Democrat Party, appointed senators, yellow-hued academics and sundry others on the right and in the military and palace to overturn the election result of 2007.

Sound familiar? It seems that the same groups are mobilizing again in 2012.

In the Bangkok Post it is reported that charges related to the PAD occupation of the airports in Bangkok are still being investigated, some charges are being dropped and others are being added. It is all a bit ho hum when it is considered that this all relates to events from late 2008. That’s more than 3 years ago.

Meanwhile, while the PAD leadership walks about, sit in parliament, do their business, plot against the government and come up with weird conspiracy theories, lese majeste victims Ampol Tangnopakul, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, Joe Gordon, Tanthawut Taweewarodomkul, Wanchai Saetan, Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, Surapak Puchaisaeng, Suporn Atthawong, Surachai Sae  Dan continue to rot in jails and about 50 red shirts have been jailed since mid-2010.

Double standards continue to prevail in a judicial system that is politicized and at the service of the royalist elite.


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