On 20 January 2016, the Bangkok Criminal Court delivered the judgement in the case of Piya, a 46 year-old man charged under Article 112 of Criminal Code and Article 14 (3), (5) of Computer Crime Act 2007. The man was found guilty and was sentenced to 9 years, but the penalty was reduced for one-third to 6 years for defendant’s plea being beneficial in the inquiry and hearings.
Piya was accused to be the owner of a Facebook account under the name “Pongsathorn Banthon.” During 27 July 2014 – 28 November 2014, “Pongsathorn Banthon” allegedly posted pictures of the current King of Thailand with defamatory comments. An unknown person used a mobile phone to take 4 pictures of the posts from computer screen, collaged the pictures into one and shared on Facebook. The same picture was used to report to police.
Piya was arrested on 11 December 2014. He denied owning the Facebook account of “Pongsathorn Banthorn” or posting the accused messages. He however admitted that the profile picture appeared on Pongsathorn , he uses the name Pongsathorn Banthorn in real life, and he had changed his real and family names several times.
The Court took the fact that messages and pictures that violate Article 112 were posted by Pongsathorn Banthorn’s account, counted as a dissemination which is an offence under Section 14(3) , (5) of Computer Crimes Act.
As to whether or not the defendant committed the offence, the Court heard the evidence from Atchariya Rueangratanapong, the Head of the Help Crime Victim Club, who claimed himself to be an eye witness and reported the alleged crime to police. He claimed to take screenshots of the actual messages directly from the Pongsathorn Banthorn’s Facebook account and that the screenshots were not the same one which were widely shared on other Facebook accounts.
Atchariya gave testimony that as he saw the alleged Facebook post, he and his Help Crime Victim Club team sent friend requests to Pongsathorn Banthorn, and continued checking on him until the team found the defendant’s address.
However, the cross-examination by the defense lawyer showed that the screenshots that Atchariya claimed to take directly from Pongsathorn Banthong’s Facebook account were in fact the same images that had been shared widely on Facebook , and his team did not add Pongsathorn Banthong as a friend on Facebook like he testified. Moreover, his Help Crime Victim Club is an assembly of people who do not hold power to enforce law.
The lawyer had an opinion that this witness, Atchariya, was a hearsay witness whose evidence lacked weight and, was fluctuating, self-contradictory, and unreliable.
The Court also heard the evidence from another witness, Pol.Lt. Gong Maisao, the inquiry officer. Pol.Lt.Gong gave testimony that the defendant had disposed name, used fake name, assumed other ID card, which implied the intent to hide his identity.
The Court did not believe the defendant’s defense that Piya used Pongsathorn Banthong’s Facebook account for only a year, and the witness for the defence did not have enough weight to rebut the prosecution witnesses. The Court then sentenced Piya to 9 years of imprisonment, but reduced by one-third to 6 years as testimony of the defendant benefited to the court’s proceeding.
TLHR remarks that, before the coup, civilian courts’ sentence rate for the offence against Article 112 of Criminal Code was 5 years per count. Piya’s case, which is the first one that the defendant insisted on fighting the lawsuit, received 9 years sentence per act, a rate almost as high as the same case in military courts that a defendant pleads guilty. This case demonstrates that after the coup, fighting a Lese Majeste case in civilian courts may result in sentence as heavy as a case tried in military courts, driving out any defendant’s hope in fighting the lawsuit. In addition, the Court brought the doubt in the defendant to try and adjudicate. Further, the Court took its doubts about the defendant’s changing of his names in consideration of handling sentences, instead of giving the benefit of the doubt to the defendant.
Section 227 of the Criminal Procedure Code cites that;
“The court shall exercise its discretion in considering and weighing all the evidence. It shall not pass any judgment of conviction unless it ensures that the offence charged has been committed actually and by the defendant.
In case of reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant has committed the offence charged in reality, the benefit of the doubt shall be given to him.”
Edited 28 Jan 2016 20.17