A Thai court yesterday sentenced a man to two years in prison for selling yellow duck calendars after judges deemed that they defamed the monarchy.
The 26-year-old defendant, who was only identified by his nickname “Tonmai,” was found guilty Tuesday by the Criminal Court in Bangkok’s Taling Chan district on a royal defamation charge for selling a rubber duck calendar.
The court ruled that the depiction of the yellow duck was a mockery of Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn. He was sentenced to prison for two years without parole.
Yellow rubber duckies became an unofficial mascot for pro-democracy protesters in late 2020, when a movement to reform the monarchy coalesced publicly. They gained attention when protesters first used them as shields against chemical-laced water cannons.
Tonmai was arrested in December 2020 at home after he sold calendars featuring cartoons of yellow ducks via pro-democracy group Ratsadon’s Facebook page. The calendars were later confiscated. Officials said the images and descriptions ridiculed and defamed King Vajiralongkorn and charged Narathorn with lese majeste, or royal insult.
The law, written to protect the monarch and his immediate family from insult, has become broadly interpreted to apply to anything that might be construed as critical of the institution itself. Convictions are punishable by up to 15 years in prison per offense.
A human rights group urged the authorities to quash the sentence and promptly release Tonmai.
“The prosecution and three-year sentence of a man for selling satirical calendars shows that Thai authorities are now trying to punish any activity they deem to be insulting the monarchy,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This case sends a message to all Thais, and to the rest of the world, that Thailand is moving further away from – not closer to – becoming a rights-respecting democracy.”
The number of lese majeste cases in Thailand has significantly increased in the past years. Since late 2020, the authorities have charged more than 200 people with lese majeste crimes, usually for participating in pro-democracy rallies, comments made on social media, or opinions expressed about the monarchy in other venues.
Officials have also used the Computer Crime Act to prosecute people who have posted critical comments about the monarchy online. They have also charged some people with sedition under section 116 of the Penal Code.
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