Ex-yellow shirt leader Sondhi found guilty of insulting Thai monarchy

Originally published at Siam Voices on October 2, 2013

Thai court sentences former leader of the ultra-royalist and reactionary yellow shirts movement Sondhi Limthongkul to two years in jail for lèse majesté, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

Things went from bad to worse for Sondhi Limthongkul, the media mogul turned leader of the so-called ‘People’s Alliance for Democracy’ (PAD) aka the yellow shirts, on Tuesday:

The Appeals Court on Tuesday sentenced Sondhi Limthongkul, a core member of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, to three years imprisonment after finding him guilty of lese majeste, reversing the lower court’s decision which acquitted him of the charge. The prison sentence was reduced by one-third to two years in jail because his testimony was deemed useful.

Mr Sondhi was charged that on July 20, 2008 he went up the stage and made a speech at a rally of PAD supporters at Makkawan Rangsan Bridge over a loud speaker.

Sondhi gets 2 years for lese majeste“, Bangkok Post, October 1, 2013

In that speech, which was broadcasted by his own satellite TV channel ASTV, Sondhi quoted pro-Thaksin supporter Daranee Charnchoengsilpaku, more commonly known as “Da Torpedo”, demanding her arrest and prosecution.

Daranee’s reportedly very strong remarks made in 2008 criticized the military coup of 2006 and the monarchy, which led to her arrest and sentencing to 18 years in jail. But, following a petition from her, the ruling was nullified and her case was declared a mistrial (we reported) since the hearings were not made accessible to the public and the media. Nevertheless, she remained imprisoned and the retrial in 2011 still found her guilty, sentencing her to 15 years in jail. Earlier this year in July, it was announced that Daranee will seek a royal pardon after more than 5 years of imprisonment and several have reported health concerns.

This lèse majesté charge against Sondhi – filed by the police – originates as far back as 2008 as he was issued an arrest warrant shortly after the aforementioned broadcast and eventually faced trial in 2011 after several delays. In September 2012 he was acquitted of the charges by the Criminal Court, as it found that Sondhi had “no intention” of breaking the law. Now, a year later, a higher court has overturned that ruling.

For Sondhi, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for corporate fraud earlier this year, it is another blow for the man who led a powerful and controversial political movement, more commonly known as the yellow shirts. The group is notorious for their street protests and the siege of Bangkok’s airports in 2008 (the trial has yet to commence) in their continuous campaign to rid Thai politics of the influences of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (a former business partner of Sondhi), including the current government of his sister Yingluck.

In August, Sondhi and other high-ranking leaders announced their resignation from the movement after they failed to convince their former allies, the opposition Democrat Party, to quit parliament in an effort to topple the government. While all involved insist that the PAD is not dead, their departure effectively disables the already marginalized movement (for now), despite the ongoing existence of ultra-royalist, anti-democracy and reactionary political offshoots.

The lèse majesté case and the conviction against Sondhi shows that even supporters of the monarchy and proponents of the draconian law are not exempt from the deeply flawed Article 112 of the Criminal Code. The reasoning of the judges clearly shows the ‘logic’ of the law and its perceived purpose:

The Appeals Court found Mr Sondhi guilty as charged, reasoning that it was not necessary for him to repeat Ms Daranee’s remarks in public. In doing so, Mr Sondhi caused other people to know what Ms Daranee had said and to talk about it, thus affecting the monarchy.

Sondhi gets 2 years for lese majeste“, Bangkok Post, October 1, 2013

In other words, Sondhi made himself an accomplice to the crime and it doesn’t matter if it was used in order to vilify her and demand her arrest, since Daranee’s words – as with all other allegedly offensive remarks in all lèse majesté cases – are not publicly discussed outside the court rooms. As explored in a previous blog post here, prosecutors have the contradictory task of pursuing offenses against the monarchy (and also the often cited “national security”) yet at the same time insist that they do not have an effect on them personally as loyal Thais.

Notably, while countless other lèse majesté prisoners are rejected bail and remain imprisoned while awaiting trial – as authorities claim they are a flight risk – Sondhi Limthongkul yet again walks free on bail (reportedly 500,000 Baht or $16,000 in this case) and probably will never see the inside of a prison cell.