A 24-year-old man arrested for spray-painting the number 112 on the wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok on Tuesday evening has been hit with police charges carrying up to seven years in prison.
The number 112 is used by protesters in referring to Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese-majeste law under which many of them have been charged and which they want revoked.
Suttawee Soikham, a native of Khon Kaen, was seen by two police officers about 5.40pm using black spray paint to write and then cross out the number 112 on the wall outside the temple, properly named Wat Phra Kaew, in the grounds of the Grand Palace, on Na Phra Lan Road in Phra Nakhon district.
He was immediately arrested and taken to Metropolitan Police Division 6 for questioning.
A 15-year-old girl who was at the scene was also arrested. Police said later that she was wanted on a warrant for lese-majeste in connection with a pro-democracy demonstration near the Giant Swing on Oct 13 last year. She is believed to be the youngest person among the 200-plus people charged with royal defamation in the past three years.
A video of Mr Suttawee painting the numbers went viral on social media on Tuesday night. Police said he was a freelance artist and a member of the Free Youth movement.
By Wednesday afternoon the graffiti — including an anarchist symbol — had been removed and the white wall repainted.
Police on Wednesday pressed two charges against Mr Suttawee — violating the Cleanliness Act, which carries a penalty of up to one month in prison and/or fine of 10,000 baht, and a charge under Section 32 of the Ancient Monuments Act, which can bring a prison term of up to seven years and/or a fine up to 700,000 baht.
Officers took him to the Bangkok Criminal Court and sought to detain him for another 12 days but he was released on bail with a surety of 50,000 baht, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported.
The teenage girl, identified only as “Yok”, was detained overnight at the Samran Rat police station. She appeared on Wednesday in juvenile and family court, where she refused to recognise the proceedings, sitting with her back to the judge. She was ordered into juvenile detention at the Ban Pranee Juvenile Vocational Training Center for Girls in Nakhon Pathom, according to the lawyers’ group.
Pol Col Naphatphong Kositsuriyamanee, chief of the Phra Ratchawang station, said patrols had been increased around the temple and the Grand Palace to prevent any recurrence of Tuesday’s incident.
When asked about the incident on Wednesday, army chief Gen Narongpan Jittkaewtae said anyone who breaks the law should be held accountable.
The army chief said he could not prohibit the way people think but laws must be respected, including those relating to ancient monuments. The temple was a sacred place, revered by Thai people, and good people would not want to deface it, he said.
He confirmed that soldiers were guarding the grounds of the Grand Palace and other important places.
According to data from TLHR to Feb 28, 2023, 1,895 people have been prosecuted for political participation and expression since the beginning of the Free Youth pro-democracy protests in July 2020. At least 233 are facing lese-majeste charges and 128 have been charged with sedition.
Suttawee Soikham is arrested after spray-painting the number 112 and an anarchist symbol on the wall of Wat Phra Kaew on Tuesday evening. (Capture from video)