Thai mother charged for saying ‘yeah’

The Thai authorities take a zero-tolerance approach to dissent at the moment. Source: Wikimedia

The mother of a prominent campaigner against the Thai junta has been charged with insulting the revered monarchy in a one-word Facebook post.

Patnaree Chankij, 40, was brought to a military court in Bangkok after the attorney general decided to charge her despite police announcing that they would not contest the case, which carries a potential 15-year jail term.

The authorities have worked to silence debate ahead of the August 7 referendum on the military-drafted constitution that appears designed to reinforce the dominance armed forces within the political system.

Her lawyer, Anon Numpa, Patnaree was charged with violating Thailand’s royal insult laws for writing the word “ja” [“yeah” or “OK” in Thai] when she received a private Facebook message that was allegedly critical of the monarchy. She was granted bail.

“The court accepted the case from the attorney general and freed Patnaree on bail,” said Anon.

It is unclear what the message from Burin Intin, 28, said but he was arrested in April on the same charge. According to Australia’s ABC, “the person writing the messages asks Ms Patnaree if it is OK to talk to her about these issues, she replies with a single word: ‘ja’”.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has threatened zero tolerance for insults to the monarchy, although this is often used as a broad justification to jail critics of the regime.

The case has drawn international criticism since police issued an arrest warrant for Patnaree’s arrest in May. The police later said they were dropping the case.

The US government and Human Rights Watch condemned her arrest and the charges. The US State Department said it created a “climate of intimidation”.

Section 112 of the criminal code says that a citizen who “defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent”.

Thai lèse-majesté laws are among the world’s strictest.

Patnaree’s son, Sirawith Seritiwat, is a student volunteer with both the New Democracy Movement and Resistant Citizen. The groups are regularly penalised by the military government for handing out leaflets against the draft charter.

During its two-year rule, the military government has taken a hardline stance against perceived royal insults and has handed down record sentences.

Fears for ailing 88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s health lie behind many of Thailand’s tensions and the military appears determined to remain in power until it has overseen the transition to a new monarch.