Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
Closed Contracts Expression
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On July 14, 2015 the Military Court of Bangkok found that the twelve defendants in the “Banpodj” Network were guilty of lèse-majesté, an offense under the Article 112 of the Criminal Code and Article 14(3) of the Computer Crime Act, due to their involvement in a political broadcast program. The program was hosted by a man called “Banpodj” who was later identified as Hassadin [last name withheld], a 64-year-old man who is the 7th defendant in this case. Other defendants were accused of being a part of the team that produced the clips or were involved in the promulgation of the clips. The 1st, 2nd, and 7th-12th defendants each received 10 years in prison that were halved by the guilty pleas. The 5th-6th defendants each received 3 years jail terms for supporting others to commit the offense under the Article 112. Since the 3rd and 4th defendants decided to fight the charges, the Military Court dismissed the case and ordered the military prosecutors to re-file the charges against the two defendants.
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 must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.
According to the military prosecutor’s accusation, Hassadin (the 7th defendant) committed lèse-majesté from the year 2010 thru January 28, 2015 by producing audio clips and uploading them on the website called mediafire.com. The content of these clips is considered offensive to the Thai royal institution and importing it on to a computer system was therefore considered to be a national security threat.
Despite knowing that the actions of Hassadin were potentially illegal, the 1st-4th and 8th-12th defendants still downloaded the audio clips and uploaded them on mediafire.com, Facebook, and OKTHAI.COM, all of which are accessible to the public. The audio clips were available online until January 28, 2015 when they were founded by police and removed.
The status of each defendant is detailed below. Please note that all the last names have been withheld due to privacy reasons.
(1) The 1st defendant: Damrong (65-years-old)
Damrong was accused of being an administer of the Facebook page “Banpodj Thailand Clips”. The page is considered to be one of the primary sources through which the clips were first made available online. He and his wife were arrested on January 25, 2015. His wife was later released.
(2) The 2nd defendant: Paisit (46-years-old)
Paisit was accused as being one of the key persons in the network who shared messages, photos, and clips that are considered to be lèse-majesté. He was arrested on January 28, 2015 by officers and taken to the Royal Thai Army Division 11. His brother was also arrested with him but was later released.
(3) The 3rd defendant: Ngoenkoon (43-years-old)
Ngoenkoon was accused of being part of the network by trying to sell a dietary supplement to financially support the network’s movement. He was arrested at home on January 29, 2015.
(4) The 4th defendant: Siwaporn (41-years-old)
Siwaporn was accused of being part of the network as an administrator of the page Banpodj Thailand Clips and by sharing messages and pictures that are considered to be lèse-majesté. She was also accused of being in contact with those who are considered as anti-monarchy. She was arrested on January 25, 2015 at her home in Samutprakarn by armed military officers and officers from Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD). Several electronic devices were seized at the place of arrest. After the arrest, she was taken with her eyes and face covered to an undisclosed location. She was placed in a dark room for five days and questioned.
(5) The 5th defendant: Natee (48-years-old)
Natee was accused of being part of the network by helping Hassadin deliver CDs containing the audio clips to different places. He was arrested on February 2, 2015 as police officers waited for him in front of his home. He was masked and taken to an undisclosed location for inquiries.
(6) The 6th defendant: Saifhon (around 50-years-old)
Saifhon was accused of being part of the network by having responsibilities over the gropu finances. She opened a bank account at Bangkok Bank for others to transfer money into. She was arrested on February 4, 2015 at home by military officers in plainclothes. It was reported by iLaw that she had been masked and taken to an undisclosed location for three nights for inquiries.
(7) The 7th defendant: Hassadin (64-years-old)
Hassadin was arrested on February 10, 2015 at a hotel in Bangkok after being accused of being DJ Banpot producing audio clips talking about politics, health, and other issues. There have been more than 400 clips since the production commenced in 2009. The house that was thought to be his was raided on February 6, 2015 and technical devices and tools for productions, financial documents concerning the network, and many CDs were found.
(8) The 8th defendant: Kornrat (61-years-old)
Kornrat was arrested on February 18, 2015 at his workplace. He was accused of being part of the network by sharing the clips on his own Facebook. He was also accused of being part of a group called “The Truth is Easily to Understand When Found”. Kornrat was taken to a military camp for inquiries for two nights. Six mobile devices and a CPU was seized from the arrest.
(9) The 9th defendant: Thipratchaya (44-years-old)
Thipratchaya was accused of being part of the the network for sharing the clips on her own Facebook. She was arrested at her workplace in Pathumthani on February 18, 2015. The company’s computer was also seized. She was subsequently taken to her house where the authorities searched around and confiscated three electronic devices. She was taken to an undisclosed location for two nights. iLaw reported that she was solitarily detained in a room with bars and military officers posted outside.
(10) The 10th defendant: Nongnuch (around 40-years-old)
Nongnuch was accused of being part of the network for sharing the clips on her own Facebook. She was arrested on February 18, 2015. The manager of the human resources department called her and found that 10 armed police and military officers were waiting for her. She was then taken to her house. The authorities searched the house, confiscating a desktop computer, an Internet receipt, and her mobile phone. Nongnuch was then taken to the Royal Thai Army Division 11 for inquiries. She was later detained in an undisclosed location.
(11) The 11th defendant: Vithaya (35-years-old)
Vithaya was accused of being part of the network for sharing the clips on the Facebook account, Vladislave Vince. He was arrested on March 17, 2015 at his dormitory in Lampoon province. His mobile phone and tablet was confiscated by the officers. He was also forced to give the passwords for his Facebook and email. Vithawa then was taken to the province’s Town Hall and later to Kawila Military Camp in Chiangmai and finally at the Royal Thai Army Division 3 in Bangkok.
(12) The 12th defendant: Korawan (46-years-old)
Korawan was arrested at home on March 23, 2015 by military officers and police officers in the uniform and plainclothes. Her iPad and mobile phone were seized by the officers. She was later taken to a military camp for inquiries and detention. Korawan was accused of being part of the network for sharing the clips on Facebook. However, her lawyer claimed that she only sent a link to Vithaya via a chat box.
Lèse-majesté in Thailand is one of the most widely discussed issues at both national level and international level. The law states that “[w]hoever defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” This language has been characterized as vague because there is no explanation as to what is meant by “defamation, insult, and threatening.” Furthermore, the law allows any individual to file a lèse-majesté complaint. In this regard, the complaint is always from the subjective perspective of the complainant and there is very little objective criteria to determine whether lèse-majesté has actually occurred.
In this specific case, the Military Court ruled that the 1st, 2nd, and 7th-12th defendants were guilty of the offense under the Article 112 of the Criminal Code; Article 1 of the 41st Order of the Coup dated October 21, 1976; Article 14 (3) and (5) of the Computer Crime Act which is appurtenant to the Article 83 of the Criminal Code. The actions committed by these defendants was categorized as one single act containing several offenses. Therefore, the defendants were punished according to the Article 112 and 83 (amended) that contain the maximum sentence according to the Article 90 of the Criminal Code. Each defendant received 10 years imprisonment.
Regarding the 5th and 6th defendants, they were found guilty for supporting others to commit the offenses under the Article 112 of the Criminal Code, Article 1 of the 41st Order of the Coup dated October 21, 1976, and Article 14 (3) and (5) of the Computer Crime Act which is appurtenant to the Article 86 of the Criminal Code. The actions committed by these defendants was categorized as one single act containing several offenses. Therefore, they were sentenced according to the Article 112 and 86 (amended) which gave the maximum sentence according to the Article 90 of the Criminal Code. Each defendant received six years imprisonment.
However, because all 10 defendants pleaded guilty, Article 78 of the Criminal Code allowed the sentences to be halved. The 1st, 2nd, and 7th-12th defendants ultimately received five years imprisonment, while the 5th and 6th defendants received three years imprisonment. Because the 3rd and 4th defendants decided to fight the charges, the Military Court dismissed those cases and ordered the military prosecutors to re-file the charges against the two defendants.
All the defendants except Hassadin asked the Court to re-consider their first dates of detentions. The nine defendants argued that the dates were wrongly presented because the counting started when they were in custody of police officers. In fact, they were taken to military camps days earlier. The prosecutors argued that the dates in the military camps should not be counted towards the sentence because the defendants were detained according to martial law. In the end, the Court held that the detention period in the military camps was to be counted towards the sentence period.
Many defendants asked for bail requests but all the requests were rejected as the Court reasoned that their offenses were serious and that seriousness would motivate the defendants to flee. Also, the military prosecutor asked the Court to try the case in camera because of the seriousness of the content. After the objection of the lawyers, the Court decided to have an open trial and allowed the relatives of the defendants to be in the courtroom.
In this case the Court gave similar sentences to those who shared the clips and those who produced the clips. According to Sasinan Thamnithinan, a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), she initially expected that the Military Court would sentence the defendants individually, especially the 7th defendant (Hassadin) because he was the person who produced the clips. She has also commented on the fact that by issuing similar sentences to participants, despite their varying involvement with the clips, can be viewed as a deterrent for comparable future behavior. This type of sentencing demonstrates that sharing is the same as producing lèse-majesté content.
It should also be noted here that the Military Court is under the Ministry of Defense. In this case, the defendants cannot appeal because the Court considered that the actions had occurred before martial law was lifted in April 2015.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case contracts freedom of expression because it criminalizes free speech that challenges the monarchy in Thailand.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Article 83, 86, 90, and 112.
Article 14 (3) and (5)
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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