Thai lawyer and activist Anon Nampa was sentenced to four years in prison for royal defamation in connection to a speech he delivered during a rally in October 2020 when he spoke about the need for democratic reforms. Anon’s guilty verdict is seen as another alarming indication of the failure of the new government to end the persecution of activists and human rights defenders.
In 2020, young activists organized a series of protests that demanded the end of military rule, the drafting of a new constitution, and the legislation of reforms in the monarchy. The protests challenged the legitimacy of the military-backed government which rose to power through the 2014 coup.
Read more: Why are young people protesting in Thailand?
The campaign for democracy garnered widespread support, which was reflected in the victory of opposition parties in the May 2023 election. But the party that got the highest number of votes and parliament seats failed to form a government because of the opposition of the Senate, whose members were appointed by the previous military-backed government.
After four months of political deadlock, a new government was finally proclaimed when the party that got the second highest number of votes partnered with pro-military parties whose common political agenda rejects the demand to reform monarchy laws, including the notorious Section 112 of the Criminal Code or the royal defamation law.
The previous government, headed by former coup leader General Prayut Chan-o-cha, was accused of weaponizing Section 112 during the pandemic by targeting critics, activists, and opposition leaders
Anon was among those who were arrested for their participation in pro-democracy protests in 2020. He spent 337 days in prison until he was released on February 28, 2022. He was slapped with 14 royal defamation cases for his speeches in rallies that allegedly insulted the king.
On September 26, the court found him guilty of royal defamation for allegedly mentioning in a rally in October 2020 that the king could order the police to disperse protesters. His petition for bail was denied the following week.
Cartoon by Stephff: 4-year sentence for Anon Nampa pic.twitter.com/WFF5vcQoM6
— Prachatai English (@prachatai_en) October 2, 2023
The tweet above features Anon who once wore a Harry Potter costume in a cosplay-themed democracy protest in 2020.
Move Forward Party, which got the highest number of votes in the recent election, cited the case of Anon as a reminder to reform Section 112 and other laws on the monarchy which are being used to undermine freedom of expression. It issued a public statement after the sentencing of Anon:
[We are acting] not for any individual, but to return the rule of law to Thailand and restore the people’s faith and trust in the justice system and every core institution in the country, because an injustice against one person is an injustice against every citizen.
In an opinion piece for the Thai Enquirer, Arun Saronchai castigated the new government for reneging on its earlier commitment to enact political reforms.
Thailand appears to be on a path toward regression, undoing the progress hoped for by millions. The new government’s actions echo the discredited tactics of its predecessors — using the judiciary as an instrument of political repression. The sentencing of Anon Nampa not only impacts him as an individual; it also serves as a troubling precedent that sends a chilling message to anyone in the nation daring to question the status quo.
When Sirikan Charoensiri of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights received the Justice for Democracy Defenders Award from the Clooney Foundation For Justice in New York on September 28, she paid tribute to the work done by Anon.
One time, Mr. Anon temporarily came out of pretrial detention to go to court barefoot while in a brown prison uniform. He then asked us, “where’s my attorney gown?“, then he wore it over his prison uniform, and continued doing his job defending the rights of young movement leaders who were being prosecuted for speaking truth to power.
When law is the state’s weapon of choice, lawyers must stand their ground, face this act of aggression, and safeguard the rule of law and democracy.
Anon Nampha’s unjust conviction, sentencing and arbitrary detention for peacefully exercising his right to expression is a stark example of how Thailand’s lèse-majesté (royal insult) law has been used to silence criticism of the government.
At least 257 individuals are facing lese majeste charges in Thailand, while 11 have been detained, including Anon, pending the resolution of their appeals.