An ardent beer fan and advocate for reforming the nation’s draconian brewing laws was sentenced to jail time and a hefty fine today, all for posting a photo of a beer he tasted.
Artid “Artie” Sivahansaphan, who uses Facebook to talk about his love of Thai craft beer culture, announced this morning that he was originally given a sentence of eight months in prison, suspended, and a THB200,000 fine for illegally promoting beer by simply posting about one that he tried and liked.
“I just posted a photo of beer,” he told Coconuts. “I made a page about craft beer, and posted a picture of this beer, and what it’s about, which is really normal. But in this country we have laws that prohibit us from talking about alcohol.”
The court said he “enticed” others to drink. Artie said that he negotiated the penalties reduced to six months and THB150,000. But he also must pay additional fines of THB5,000 per day for refusing to “correct” his posts as ordered.
The suspended sentence means he will remain free if he abides by the court’s requirements. The police said that if he commits another offense within a two-year probationary period, his term will be enforced.
Artie’s page, which has more than 70,000 followers, shows that he has continued to post similar photos of craft beer, with some of their labels blurred. He also uses his platform to promote opposition parties challenging the government in next month’s election.
He is the latest advocate for reform of the laws which protect the major brewing duopoly to be prosecuted. Activist Thanakorn “Benz” Tuamsa-ngiam was charged last month with illegally promoting alcohol via his Prachachon Beer (“Beer People”) community. He faces a fine of at least THB750,000 (US$22,000) over posts made between October 2020 and July 2021.
Like Artie, Thanakorn was told he would have to pay THB50,000 for each offending post, amounting to THB750,000. Someone responding from Prachachon Beer this afternoon said they planned to submit documents disputing the charges.
Over the years, many have been charged – particularly those calling the loudest for reform.
Homebrewing is essentially banned under the Alcohol Control Act of 2008, as is any photo that shows a label as well as anything the authorities deem could “entice” someone to drink. The military-backed government has ardently enforced those laws and last year orchestrated the defeat an opposition bill to decriminalize brewing.
Artie said the law is archaic.
“I wanted to talk about how good the beer was, but cannot,” he said.
His great offense? Artie said that he learned in late March that he had been charged over a 2020 post praising a drink by New York’s Equilibrium Brewery for its flavor and texture.
In announcing the verdict this morning, he said it was the high cost for “talking about the pleasures and aesthetics of alcoholic beverages in this country.”
Alcohol consumption has long been at the fore of Thailand’s culture wars. Homebrewing has emerged as a proxy battle over the country’s future by those who want a less feudal Thailand. Pro-brewing elements have been engaging in civil disobedience by knowingly violating what strikes many as farcical laws, and the authorities continue prosecuting them in response.
Artie noted that he is unable to criticize the court’s verdict – any form of criticism of the judiciary is a crime itself – and accepted the penalties.
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