Red Siam leader, 69, jailed for lese majeste

February 29, 2012

Surachai Darnwattananusorn, the leader of the Red Siam group, was yesterday handed an unsuspended sentence to serve seven and a half years behind bars for three counts of defaming the monarchy.

Judges read the sentence without going into the details of what Surachai, 69, had actually said during three political rallies in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Udon Thani back in 2010.

They concluded, however, that what Surachai said about the royal institution was “untrue” because the monarchy had been doing various good deeds for the country. The judges also stated that what Surachai said led to “increasing conflict in society”.

At the beginning of the very short verdict, one of the three presiding judges read a brief biography of Surachai, pointing out that for five years in the 1970s he was a communist insurgent, among some other things.

Judges said the sentence had been reduced by half, from 15 years, since Surachai had pleaded guilty.

Surachai said just minutes before the verdict was read out that he had no choice but to plead guilty to reduce the time he would spend in prison.

“I am no criminal. I’m not a bad person,” he told The Nation. “For more than 40 years I have understood the problem [about the monarchy], and so what else should I say? I tried my best to evade [the lese majeste charge] through the wording. It shouldn’t have been a crime.”

Surachai said that without the right to bail, which was denied him five times over the past 12 months of detention, it would make more sense for an old man like him to plead guilty quickly and seek a royal pardon.

“Fighting the case means staying in jail [longer],” he said.

The right to temporary release must be applied equally to those facing lese majeste charges, as some people charged with murder could even get bail, he said.

Just in front of the Criminal Court where Surachai was sentenced, a group of 10 red shirts has been staging a protest against the rejection of bail to most people charged with lese majeste, which carries a maximum jail term of 15 years.

Three people staged a 24-hour hunger strike yesterday, including Suda Rangkupan, a linguistics lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, who said she hoped actions by people like herself would be at least like a match igniting a fire in the wind.

Surachai will now seek a royal pardon although he still faces at least one more lese majeste charge.

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