Princess Sirindhorn not protected by the lèse majesté law: lawyers

Human rights lawyers are arguing that suspects accused of defaming Princess Sirindhorn should not be indicted under the lèse majesté law.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), from 18 July until December, the Provincial Court of Kamphaeng Phet will try four suspects charged with violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.

The four — Atsadaphon, Kittiphop, Wiset and Noppharit (surnames withheld due to privacy concerns) — were arrested in late August 2015 and charged with royal defamation for making false claims about the monarchy, falsifying public documents, fraud, and impersonating officers from the Bureau of the Royal Household.

The prosecutor said that the four forged documents from the Secretariat Office of Princess Sirindhorn promising the Princess’ presence at religious events at Wat Sai Ngam Buddhist Monastery in Kamphaeng Phet Province, provided the temple paid them 100,000 baht.

Of the four, Kittiphop and Wiset pleaded guilty while Atsadaphon and Noppharit denied the accusations.

During the deposition hearing in 2015, Noppharit claimed to not know the other three suspects and maintained that he was not involved in the alleged crimes. He pointed out that when the police arrested him, he made no effort to escape because he had no knowledge of the case. All four suspects have been detained since their arrest, since the court has repeatedly denied bail.

Noppharit also submitted two requests that the court reconsider whether the charge of making false claims about Princess Sirindhorn falls under Article 112. The court, however, rejected the requests.

But TLHR pointed out that indicting the four under Article 112 significantly affects interpretations of the lèse majesté law and the country's judicial system in general, as the law states, "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, Heir-apparent or Regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years”.

In 1989, the Royal Thai Police submitted a request to the Council of State to conclude whether Princess Sirindhorn was an heir to the throne. The Council concluded that based on the 1924 Palace Law of Succession and a statement from the Bureau of the Royal Household, the only heir-apparent to the throne at the time was then Prince Vajiralongkorn, now the current King.

The Council ruled further that defaming the Princess falls under Article 326 of the Criminal Code, the criminal defamation law, under which a case can only be brought if the injured party files a complaint against the offender, or gives authorisation to another person to file it. However, in Noppharit’s case, the plaintiff is Wat Sai Ngam Buddhist Monastery.

In 2012, Thanyaburi Provincial Court sentenced Anon (surname withheld due to privacy concerns) to two years in prison for defaming Princess Sirindhorn and Princess Soamsawali during a private conversation. He was initially indicted under Article 112, but the court ruled that the alleged crime fell under the normal criminal defamation law. The Appeal Court later dismissed the charge against him.

In another case in 2004, Nonthaburi Provincial Court handed down a 10-year sentence to Prachuap (surname withheld due to privacy concerns). He was indicted on two counts under the lèse majesté law for making false claims about Princess Sirindhorn, then Prince Vajiralongkorn, the Queen, and Princess Bajrakitiyabha.

In 2005, the Appeal Court reduced the jail term for Prachuap to five years after concluding that Princess Sirindhorn was not an heir-apparent. Later the Supreme Court reduced his imprisonment to 4 years, reasoning that Prachuap is loyal to the monarchy and had never committed a crime before.