Prachatai reports that on 22 February 2018, “the Kamphaengphet Provincial Court ruled Atsadaphon and Noppharit (surnames withheld due to privacy concerns) not guilty of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, citing weak evidence.”
This unusual acquittal refers to a case that began on or about 20 August 2015, when the Kamphaeng Phet provincial court issued arrest warrants for Kittiphop Sitthirat, 23, Atsadaphon Sitthirat, 45, and Wiset Phutthasa, 30, on lese majeste charges. Later, a fourth name was added, Noppharit (surname not known), 28. Some of the suspects were arrested on 21 August 2015. They were all accused of “making false claims about Princess Sirindhorn in a scam.” Police arrested “charged them with lèse majesté, falsifying public documents, fraud, and impersonating officers from the Bureau of the Royal Household.”
The court reportedly gave “the suspects the benefit of the doubt, ruling that the evidence fail to prove that the suspects had actually made the false claims…”.
In part, this verdict is a way of avoiding a critical and contradictory issue.
From the beginning, two of the four challenged the use of Article 112. Lawyers for Noppharit asked the court to consider whether the case falls under Article 112 since that law does not apply to Princess Sirindhorn. The court attempted to prevent consideration of this issue, blocking information and access to it.
In handing down the acquittal, the court completely avoided this issue. It did not rule on Sirindhorn and lese majeste. We gather the judges were petrified that making a decision that followed the law and excluded her could have caused them to face lese majeste accusations.
Even stranger, though, is the fact that the two other suspects already succumbed to pressure to plead guilty and have been sentenced to three years and eights months in prison.
We wonder – but doubt – that there will be any revisiting of their cases. To do so would embarrass the court and would again raise the issue that no one wants or dares to touch – that Sirindhorn is not covered by lese majeste. We would also point out that there have been several other lese majeste cases involving her.