Doctors say lèse majesté suspect with mental illness can face trial

A psychiatric institute in Thailand has concluded that the trial can go ahead of a lèse majesté suspect who claims that he has telepathic powers to communicate with Thaksin Shinawatra, the controversial ex-Prime Minister.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the military Judge Advocate General’s office has scheduled a hearing on 20 April 2016, when military prosecutors will decide whether to indict Sao (surname withheld due to privacy concerns) under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.

The hearing was set after psychiatrists from Galya Rajanagarindra Institute in Bangkok concluded in December 2015 that Sao is fit to stand on trial in a military court after he was sent to the Institute for an examination of his mental illness.

Like the psychiatrists, the Royal Thai Police committee to process lèse majesté cases has concluded that the trial can continue.  

Sao, from the Thai Lue ethnic minority in the northern province of Chiang Rai, is accused by the Criminal Division for Political Office Holders of the Supreme Court of making false claims about the monarchy’s property.

On 13 March 2015, he came to the Criminal Division for Political Office Holders to submit a complaint which stated that the controversial former PM, Thaksin, misallocated the property of the King. He claimed that he was in charge of managing 7 billion baht (196 million USD).

Tung Song Hong police summoned him to hear the accusation in late May 2015 and held him in custody at the Remand Prison from 28 May to 19 August last year.

TLHR reported that the suspect was earlier imprisoned on cases related to narcotics abuse and that he claimed that he could contact the former PM, Thaksin, by a telepathic method through a TV.

On 26 January 2016, TLHR submitted a letter to the authorities, suggesting that the suspect should not be indicted due to his psychosis. Sao still claims that he has telepathic powers and maintains that his claims about the King’s property are true, TLHR added.

There have been several lèse majesté cases involving people with mental illness in the past several years, but because of the great sensitivity surrounding cases related to the Thai monarchy, the court usually refrains from dismissing the charges.

Since jurisdiction over cases under Article 112 was transferred from the court of justice to the military court after the 2014 coup d’état, the sentences given to lèse majesté suspects have tended to be more severe, regardless of the suspects’ mental condition.

In early August 2015, the Chiang Rai Military Court sentenced Samak P., a 48-year-old man accused under Article 112 to 10 years’ imprisonment, reduced by half to five years after the suspect pleaded guilty.

At the trial, medical documents were presented to prove that Samak suffered from serious psychosis. He had been diagnosed for several years by Chiang Rai Hospital as suffering serious mental illness and took medication to battle visual and auditory hallucinations. He said that he constantly hears whispers.

Samak was arrested by the police and the Deputy Village Head of San Pasak in Thoeng District of Chiang Rai on 8 July 2014 after he tore apart a picture of the King at the entrance to the village while carrying a knife. He confessed that he destroyed the picture on the day of his arrest and has remained in custody since.