Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
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Thiensutham posted five messages on a Facebook page under an account called “Yai Daengduet.” The content was considered by the court as lèse-majesté and he was found guilty on March 31, 2015, by the Military Court, which handed down a 50-year jail term. The sentence was later halved by a guilty plea.
The court documents are not available for public posting due to privacy and security concerns. According to the Lèse-majesté law in Thailand, those who repeat or spread the banned words could also face prosecution.
Thiensutham was arrested on December 18, 2014, for lèse-majesté after posting five messages on his own Facebook accounts under the name “Yai Daengdueat”. The messages were posted from July 2014 – November 2014 . The messages were written metaphorically and none of the members of the Thai royal family were directly mentioned. Unfortunately, the content cannot be revealed to the public as the lèse-majesté law in Thailand prohibits the repetition of the content that is considered as lèse-majesté. However, the brief details can be shown as follows: 
|July 25, 2014||The message mainly criticized the King’s principle of sufficiency economy. The message had also compared the royal family of Thailand to the royal family of Bhutan.|
|August 21, 2014||The message stated that the brand of soy milk under the royal project had been contaminated.|
|September 13, 2014||An image of “a man with one eye” along with the General Prayuth Chan-0-cha, the head of the military junta who seized power on May 22, 2014 was posted along with descriptions.|
|September 27, 2014||An image of a poppy flower was posted along with a message that accused “one important wealthy” family had involved in an illegal opium business.|
|November, 2014||The message talked about a man referred as “Uncle Somchai” in which it had been interpreted by police officers that it means the king.|
Thiensutham was detained at a military camp before being sent to police . He was arrested during the time martial law had been declared, which allowed military officers to detain him for 7 days without an arrest warrant. He was sent to the police and informed about the charges afterwards. He had never been granted bail .
On March 31, 2015, the Military Court in Bangkok found him guilty for committing lèse-majesté, and each message is considered as one count. The court sentenced him to 10 years for each count which resulted in a total of 50 years. The sentence was later reduced to 25 years after a guilty plea. The verdict was read behind closed doors, and the relatives of the defendant as well as observers were not allowed in the courtroom. Thiensutham is currently at the Klong Prem Central Prison .
 Wongwat, Metta. “Testimony from Wife of Lèse-majesté Prisoner Serving Longest Article 112 Sentence in History.” Prachatai, June 18, 2010. http://www.prachatai.com/english/node/5170
 “Military Court Gives Red Shirt 25 Years for Lèse-majesté Comment on Facebook.” Prachatai, March 03, 2015. http://www.prachatai.com/english/node/4923
 Wongwat, Metta. “Testimony from Wife of Lèse-majesté Prisoner Serving Longest Article 112 Sentence in History.” Prachatai, Op. Cit.
The ruling of this lèse-majesté case is nothing surprising. However, at that time Thiensutham was sentenced to 25 years in prison, his case was considered as the longest prison term in the history of lèse-majesté. In lèse-majesté cases, the court always reasoned that the offense is found to be serious and affect public morals in which it cannot be proved how the public morals have been affected.
Lèse-majesté in Thailand has raised concerns over human rights violations both internationally and nationally. The characteristics of Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, which states “Whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years,” does not have a clear scope of the law. There is no definition of which action is concerned a “defamation, insult, or a threat” to the individuals described in the law. In this case, it makes the context freely interpreted.
The law also strongly links to the cultural aspect of the Thai society, as King Bhumibhol is considered the most revered figured of the nation. The king is above the law as it is prescribed in every constitution of Thailand. The judges themselves can feel social pressure from the case which makes the conviction of lèse-majesté cases almost certain.
When it is comprised with the use of martial law declared by the military junta after it seized the power on May 22, 2014, the situation has gone much worse. The lèse-majesté cases and the number of individuals who have been sentenced to imprisonment have been dramatically increase. The junta announced that a lèse-majesté case will be tried by the military court in which the independence of the court is doubtful as it is an organization under the Ministry of Defense. The prosecutors are also military prosecutors and the judges are also military officers. The deputy leader of the military junta, General Prawit Wongsuwan, is also the head of the ministry.
As the martial law was declared until April 1, 2015, the defendants whose actions occurred during the time the law was used cannot appeal for their sentence. The court also usually tries this kind of case in camera, claiming that it is a serious offense which leaves little or no transparency over the court proceedings.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The defendant should not have been arrested because of his Facebook posts. In this case, the legal proceedings along with the conviction of the defendant for lèse-majesté contract expression.
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.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.