Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
Closed Contracts Expression
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Thailand’s Bangkok Military Court sentenced the defendant, Wichai, to 35 years in prison for posting images and messages deemed insulting to the royal family. Wichai, whose last name was withheld for the safety of his family, was charged with 10 counts of lèse-majesté in respect of the comments and images which it was alleged he had posted using a Facebook account that he had created under the name of a former friend.
The Court handed down a sentence of 70 years, a seven-year penalty for each count, but halved the sentence to 35 years following a guilty plea. The sentence is believed to be the longest lèse-majesté sentence ever handed down.
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and notes that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It should also be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about the case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as any official source becomes available.
The Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) of the Royal Thai Police Force received a complaint from a man called Suwit who said that someone had created an account on Facebook using his name. Suwit said that the Facebook account was used to post information considered as lèse-majesté under his name. Wichai was arrested on December 22, 2015 following an investigation by police during which they confiscated a laptop and mobile phone belonging to Wichai and which was subsequently examined by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society.
According to the military prosecutor, Wichai allegedly signed up for an account on Facebook using a photo of another person under the name “SUWIT WAJAPLANG” and created 10 Facebook posts consisting of videos, photos, and comments on October 19, 20, and 22, 2015. The military prosecutor said the posts exposed King Rama IX and other members of the royal family to public hatred and humiliation. The prosecutor said that Wichai had known that the content in the posts was false and could constitute a threat to the national security. The prosecutor also alleged that the posts slandered Suwit since the account was created using his name and photo.
The defendant was accused of committing lèse-majesté under Articles 112, 326 and 328 of the Criminal Code and importing forged computer data in a manner that is likely to cause damage to Suwit under Articles 14 (1), (3), (5) of the Computer-Related Crimes Act 2007. Wichai denied that he had committed the alleged crimes.
The first prosecution witness, Suwit, failed to attend court as scheduled on May 22, 2016 because, according to the military prosecutor, the witness warrant was sent to the wrong address. Wichai subsequently decided to plead guilty and asked the Court to fix a date for the ruling as he had been detained since he was arrested in December, 2015 and no longer wished to continue with his defense.
The defendant submitted a statement to the Court in which he acknowledged that what he had done was wrong and stated that he respected the the royal family and had participated in a “Bike for Dad” event in celebration of His Majesty the King Rama IX’s 88th birthday in December 2015. He asked the Court to look upon the case with sympathy and give him a light penalty in order that he may repent and not re-offend.
The Court said it would give its ruling on June 9, 2017.
Wichai was convicted on 10 counts of lèse-majesté for posting photos, videos, and comments on Facebook and given a seven-year penalty for each count. However the 70-year sentence was halved to 35 years after he pleaded guilty. The Court dismissed the charge under Article 14 of the Computer-Related Crimes Act because the Act had been amended and elements of the filed complaint no longer fitted the new version.
Note: Global Freedom of Expression is unable to provide any overview of the decision. The majority of hearings in Thailand’s military court system are secret, especially in cases concerning defamation, insults, or threats against the royal family. According to reports of the Wichai case, journalists were barred from entering the courtroom and only Wichai and his lawyer were present.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This decision contracts expression by imposing an extremely harsh criminal penalty on a defendant exercising his rights to freedom of expression on social media.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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