Thailand’s Freedom of Expression During 2012-2013: New Prosecutions, Laws, Policies, Directives and Verdicts


At present, Thailand’s right to freedom of expression is subjected to numerous regulations. It should be noted that all of the applicable laws to regulate freedom of expression in Thailand have been drafted and enacted by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) installed after the 19 September 2006 military coup.

The implications of all those laws were felt most acute during 2012-2013. Many politically motivated cases have reached the Court during these two years. And the verdicts delivered have set new precedent and reinterpreted the laws as far as the right to freedom of expression is concerned.

The Freedom of Expression Documentation Center, iLaw, has compiled information regarding hindrances to access to media, news consumption and freedom of expression in Thailand covering both traditional media including press, film, broadcasting media and electronic media which has been increasingly used by citizen groups as both distributors and recipients of the information. We keep monitoring people’s participation in various forms as well.

Based on the information compiled, the Freedom of Expression Documentation Center has produced a report card of the situation of freedom of expression exploring any obstacles and infringements on the right to freedom of expression, reviewing new Court verdicts, monitoring ongoing litigations and new draft laws, directives, policies from January 2012 to April 2013.


Obstacles and infringements to the right to freedom of expression

Various grounds related to social morality, defamation of the royaltiesnational security, and social unity are mainly invoked to curb and breach the right to freedom of expression. In detail, interesting facts can be described as follows;

  • Citizen At least three new prosecutions on lèse majesté law and two new cases on defamation law have been documented as an attempt to curb the expression of opinions in public.
  • Press No print press has been banned invoking the 2007 Print Act during this time. But at least 15 cases have been laid against newspapers accusing them for committing libelous acts. Most legal actions have stemmed from damage of personal reputation. New libel cases have been launched against reporters, columnists and editors in 2012 working for Siam Dara, Matichon, Siam Sports Daily, Pim Thai, Thai Rath, Post Today, and Daily News. And the litigants against Thailand’s press in 2012 include celebrities, business persons, football clubs, private companies, state enterprises, civil servants, military officers and Constitutional Court Judges.
  • Film Two films have been banned and censored including “Shakespeare Must Die” banned by the Film and Video Act B.E. 2551 (2008) on ground that the film might have caused social schisms. The second film, “Boundary”, was initially banned, but after the deletion of certain scenes, it was given permission to be screened.
  • Television At least three programs were banned by the management of the stations. One program was fined by National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) , another suspended and being investigated. Grounds of the interventions including that the programs’ contents were in breach of good morality of society, deemed a contempt to religion, and defamatory to the King.
  • Internet Blocking of access to more than 20,000 URLs have been initiated invoking the Computer related Crime Act B.E. 2550 (2008). 80% of them were deemed defamatory to the King and the rest 20% deemed pornographic. 1 URL was deemed blasphemy.

Banning and censorship is just one benchmark to gauge the infringement on the right to freedom of expression. Various other forms of violations have been employed, particularly self-censorship which is an emerging crisis of media.




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Interesting verdicts during 2012 - 2013

Important verdicts have been delivered during 2012-2013 in charges related to Penal Code’s Article 112 (lèse majesté law), Article 206 on contempt of religion, Article 215 on unlawful assembly, Article 365 on intrusion with the use of force, Article 326 and 328 on defamation and the CCA’s Article 14 related to internet postings.

One case dismissed by the Court invoking the right to make criticisms in good faith by people was the acquittal of defendants who were NGO workers. They were pressed with defamation charges after they had come out to criticize power plant bidding process in a TV program. The Court ruled that since the matter was related to public interest, it should be subjected to criticisms from people.

A few other cases to criminalize freedom of expression have been dismissed by the Court as the Court deemed the defendants had no intention to commit such an offence. For example, Mr. Sondhi Limthongkul was prosecuted on a lèse majesté case from making a speech at a political rally. He was acquitted as the prosecutor was deemed to have failed to establish enough evidence to prove the commission of the offence. Mr. Surapak who was charged with lèse majesté for his postings in facebook was also acquitted on the same ground as well as another defamation case against representatives of the Thai Industrial Gases Labour Union on ground that they had sent out a defamatory email against their employers.

A number of verdicts have done disservice to the right to freedom of expression. The situation of media as a medium has become precarious as increasingly the grounds related to national security and defamation of the King have been cited to criminalize people. Landmark cases in the past year include the conviction of Prachatai's director for her negligence to allow content affecting national security to be posed for more than 20 days. Found violating CCA, she was sentenced to one year in jail with suspended tem.

In addition, there were also cases of lèse majesté charges being pressed despite that the accused simply acted as a medium, and did not author the content or make the opinion. A case in point is the case against Mr. Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, Editor of Voice of Taksin who was convicted in January 2013 for his offence related to the publishing of two offensive articles. Even though he was not the author of the articles, the Court found him the person in charge to make a call on whether to publish, distribute or disseminate any information and therefore sentenced him to ten years in jail. Similarly, Mr. Ekkachai, who had sold CD containing an ABC’s TV documentary in Thailand’s monarchy and Wikileaks cables, was convicted to five years in jail in March 2013. The jail term was reduced to three years and four months because of his cooperation with the inquiry officers.

The Court of First Instance also made new precedent by criminalizing the spreading of rumour. In the case against Mr. Katha, a stock broker, who was accused of spreading bad news that affected Thailand’s stock index, the Court ruled that though he was not the person who originally spread the news, but he also had no right to redistribute it. If he was not found guilty, it would have allowed anyone to lawfully spread rumour offensive to other people. Thus, he was given a four year jail term on two counts, two years for each.

Regarding lèse majesté, there was a case in Roi Et where the Court convicted Mr. Uthai for handing over a flier offensive to the King to his neighbor. He was given a three year suspended jail term as the Court deemed the commission of the offence stemmed from his naiveté. As since 2006, it has become a norm for all defendants in lèse majesté cases to receive five year imprisonment for each count, it was the first time that the Court handed the minimum penalty to an accused or three year jail term. And the Court even suspended the jail sentence. After that case, another verdict was delivered in a lèse majesté case against Mr. Yotwaris, aka “Jeng Dokchik”, who while making a speech in a political rally had gestured to put his hands over his mouth. The act of sealing his mouth was interpreted by the Court as defamatory to the King and he was therefore given a three year imprisonment, which was reduced to two years. But the sentence was not suspended.

2012-2013 also saw interesting cases related to political demonstrations. In March 2013, the Court convicted ten NGO activists as they had climbed over the fences of the Parliament in an act of protest against the passing of laws by the NLA. The Court deemed it an offence related to illegal assembly and the use of force and the core leaders were sentenced to two years in jail and fined for 9,000 baht, and the other less active leaders to one year in jail and fined 9,000 baht. As they had cooperated during the investigation, the jail term was reduced by one third to one year and four months and 6,000 baht of fine, and eight months and 6,000 baht of fine, respectively. The jail sentences were suspended for two years as the defendants were deemed of acting in the defence of national interest.

As for cases regarding religion, it has been reported that the Court of Appeals convicted a Buddhist monk on religious contempt charges as he had allegedly slapped a Buddha image’s face. He even put a label on it saying “Here is just bronze material, not the Buddha, no need to give it a respect”). Though he was acquitted by the Lower Court, the Appeals Court found him guilty as the Court deemed that though the defendant claimed it was just a tactic of his to convince Buddhists not to stick to material, but he could have done it the other way. The Court was convinced that the monk’s act caused humiliation to Buddhism as a Buddha image is well respected by people. 


30 Noteworthy Court Rulings

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Interesting updates during 2012-2013

From monitoring cases at the police and public prosecutor levels, it was found that in early 2012, a few political cases were scrapped, i.e., the case stemming from a diagram of those accused of wanting to overthrow the monarchy found in 2010. Nevertheless, some cases were evolving in a worrying manner and new cases have been filed. For example, a university lecturer was charged with a lèse majesté case. And the alleged offenders in these cases have not been granted bail pending the prosecutions. In certain cases, the defendants gave up, made confession and sought a pardon.

In addition, in 2012, calling it quit, five defendants in lèse majesté cases pleaded guilty and sought a royal pardon. At the Lower Court, there were cases of Mr. Surachai Sae-Dan and Mr. Sathien who opted for pleading guilty and sought a royal pardon. At the Appeals Court, Mr. Thantawuth and Mr. Amphon (already dead) gave up and sought a royal pardon. And the case which has reached its final verdict against Mr. Wanchai, he also is seeking a royal pardon. In 2012, three defendants were granted royal pardons including the cases against Mr. Joe GordonMr. Suchart Nakbangsai and Mr. Suriyan.  



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Status of defendants in cases related to freedom of expression during 2012-2013

One protracted problem is the Court’s refusal to grant bail to defendants in cases related to the expression of political opinions.

At present, at least 8 defendants in cases related to freedom of expression are being held in custody at the Bangkok Remand Prison. Two of them have their final verdicts, five decided to give up and are seeking a royal pardon and one is already dead while being held in custody.

Five defendants/convicts have been released; one as he did his full term, three given royal pardons and another person won his case in the Lower Court.



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Laws, Directives and Some Policy Movement during 2012

Laws and policies meted out in 2012 which affect the right to freedom of expression can be classified into different categories including national security, social morality, copy rights, state ideology and others.


Morality VS Freedom of expression

A push for Blasphemy Law 
Status: Pending approval
The draft Act on the Support and Protection of Buddhism proposed by the Phue Thai Party, the Democrats Party and the National Office of Buddhism aims to protect Buddhism, address contemptuous acts against the religion including a ban on defamation, insult, distortion against the Buddha, the teaching, religious study and others. It aims to prevent any damage done to the religion’s reputation and any weird acts against it. Lately, in late 2012, the draft is pending consideration of the Council of State. (Sources: 123)

Bill on the Prevention and Suppression of Media that Induce Violent Acts
Status: Pending approval 
In November 2012, the cabinet approved the draft of the Act on the Prevention and Suppression of Media that Induce Violent Acts which aims to prevent and suppress various forms of media which instigate, incite and promote dangerous behaviors including (1) unorthodox sex acts, (2) child molestation and sexual relationships, (3) child abuse, (4) child suicide or group suicide, (5) drug abuse, (6) an act of terrorism, thief, robbery, murder or inflicting pain or torturing other person. (Sources: 123)

Ministry of Culture and the Media for Youth Network proposing a Bill on “Safe Media” 
Status: Pending approval
In April 2012, the cabinet approved the Bill on the Fund for Developing Safe and Creative Media proposed by the Ministry of Culture. It aims to promote and support the development and production of media which are safe for children and creative with participation from public as well as to have established a mechanism to promote media awareness. The Office of Safe and Creative Media shall be set up using funds from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), fine from copy rights infringement fine, and fees collected from the application for licenses under the Film and Video Act.

Later in August 2012, the Child and Youth Media Institute proposed another version of the Bill on the Fund for Developing Safe and Creative Media. Ten thousands signatures have been collected to support the law and it has been submitted for consideration of the Parliament along with the version of the law prepared by the state. In the latter version, it features broad definition of media and proposes that a half of the Funds board members should be nominated by people’s sector. (Sources: 123)


National security vs Freedom of expression

CCA cases accepted as special cases by DSI 
Status: Effective 
Since April 2012, the Ministry of Justice issued “Ministerial Regulation on Special Case to be Handled by Special Investigation (no. 2) B.E. 2012”. It basically refers any offence against computer related crime laws to be under the charge of Department of Special Investigation (DSI). As a result, if necessary for an investigation of such an offence including monitor the expression of opinion online, DSI officers are authorized to tap phone line, disguise themselves, infiltrate into any organization, doctor any documents and have in possession any firearms, even without licenses. (Sources: 123)

The New Draft of CCA 
Status: Pending studies 
The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) is drafting a new version of CCA. In the latest draft, the criminalization of service providers as the medium is still there if they are found to allow other person to post any illegal content in their system. The clause simply encourages self-censorship. Article 14 (1) will be deleted, though it has been invoked in most of the cases filed until now, since it has been misinterpreted for criminalizing on posting false information and it has led to a massive number of libel cases. What remains is the Article that criminalizes content deemed harmful to national security. New additions include offences related to having in possession child pornography, expansion of power to have access to website blocked by not require the type of content to apply for court warrant.


Copy rights VS Freedom

Draft of new version of Copy Rights Act with measures to prevent file copying 
Status: Pending
approval In October 2012, the cabinet approved the new version of Copy Rights Act with the inclusion of the term “measures supported by the use of technology”. Basically, if any measures are in place to prevent copying of copy righted works, any person who has made attempt to circumvent it or to make the measures ineffective shall be punished by the law.

The New Draft of CCA 
Status: Pending studies 
MICT is proposing a new Article on copying offence which states that “Any act of copying or any similar act committed in order to obtain a copy of information from other person’s computer which shall be disclosed or used for one’s own benefit or others” shall be treated as a criminal offence. The draft law is being subjected to public hearings.


State ideology vs Freedom

Parliament refusing to hear Bill to Amend Article 112 
Status: Effective 
In May 2012, the Campaign Committee for the Amendment of Article 112 collected more than thirty thousand signatures of supporters of the Bill for the Amendment of Article 112 including reduction of penalty rate, offering an exemption if the opinion is expressed in good faith, etc. Later in October 2012, the House of Parliament issued a letter to officially refuse to read the Bill claiming that any provision related to the monarchy cannot be amended by using a law proposed by people.

Constitutional Court confirmed banning of film invoking national security, though deprives individuals’ freedom, but not unconstitutional   
Status: Effective
Throughout 2012, a number of damaged parties requested the Constitutional Court to review several that have infringed on their rights . The laws that were challenged including;

  • Article 14(2) of CCA proposed for the Constitutional Court’s review by Mr. Katha P charged with lèse majesté case for posting news that allegedly caused a slump of stock index. In his application, he challenged that the Article’s content is ambiguous and thus gives competent officer much room to use their discretion, sometimes excessively. The Court found that the law aims to protect national security and to keep public order and thus complies with the rule of law. The penalty rate imposed herein is also appropriate to the gravity of the offence and it ensures fairness to all parties. Thus, the Court refused to hear the application of the defendant. (Sources: 1)
  • Article 26(7) and 29 of the Motion Pictures and Video Act proposed by director of the banned film, “Insects in the Backyard”. She challenged that the Article provides for media censorship. The Constitutional Court ruled that the law provide appropriate power to state agencies to screen films before their being released to public. It ensures that a film director shall not exercise their excessive freedom of expression that may infringe on the rights of others. Though, it is done so at the expense of freedom of expression, but it is required to be used only necessarily and therefore does not affect the essence of freedom of expression. (Sources: 1)       
  • Article 112 of Penal Code proposed by Mr. Ekkachai H, defendant who had sold CDs containing Wikileaks cables and Mr. Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, defendant in the case against editor of “Voice of Taksin”. The Constitutional Court ruled that Article 112 aims to protect the King as a national institution and Head of State, and any offenders are penalized in order to protect public order and uphold social morality based on the rule of law which is a moral or ethic of the law. The law is provided for to protect national security and though, it is done so at the expense of freedom of expression, but it is required to be used only necessarily and therefore does not affect the essence of freedom of expression.    (Sources: 12)

NBTC issuing temporary licenses for three month trial broadcast

2012 was the first year in office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) which has laid down Frequency Management Master Plan (2012), Broadcasting Master Plan No. 1 (2012 - 2016) and Telecommunication Master Plan No. 1 (2012 – 2016).

Later, NBTC issued temporary licenses for three month trial radio broadcast to 515 radio stations including 404 business stations, 67 stations for public interest and 44 stations on community services. The trial broadcast has started since January 2013.

The licenses were issued and could be extended on the condition that the content broadcast must not violate the existing regulations. (Sources: 1,2)



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Report: Freedom of Expression Documentation Center
Translation: Pipob Udomittipong,  Prach Panchakunathorn
Graphic Design: Wrong Design
Support by: Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southeast Asia


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