The Supreme Court has banned former Move Forward Party MP Pannika Wanich from politics for life in connection with a picture deemed disrespectful to the monarchy that she posted online 13 years ago.
The ruling on Wednesday said that Ms Pannika was guilty of a breach of ethical standards that a person with a political position should have, media reports quoted her lawyer Krissadang Nutcharat as saying.
While the court banned Ms Pannika from running in any election and holding any political position for life, it did not take away her right to vote because she was not proved to have rejected the constitutional monarchy.
In a comment on the ruling on Thursday night on X (formerly Twitter), Ms Pannika noted that it only prohibits her from seeking or holding political office, and not from doing other forms of political work.
“So everything remains exactly the same. My political mission on behalf of the Party continues, including being a campaign assistant in future elections,” she wrote.
“We’ve come this far. We will not stop halfway until we reach the finish line.”
The 35-year-old former MP was already subject to a 10-year political ban imposed on 16 Future Forward Party executives when the Constitutional Court dissolved the party in February 2020 for a breach of funding regulations.
Ms Pannika, the spokesperson for Future Forward, was considered one of its three key figures alongside Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul. After the ban the trio went on to form the Progressive Movement as a policy think-tank affiliated with the new Move Forward Party.
The three also played high-profile roles as “campaign assistants” leading up to the May 14 general election in which Move Forward won the most seats.
The complaint that led to Wednesday’s court ruling was initiated by prolific petitioner Srisuwan Janya in June 2019. In a review of Ms Pannika’s social media history, he discovered some posts that he brought to the attention of the National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC).
The anti-graft panel accused Ms Pannika of breaching ethical standards while serving as an MP because she failed to remove the material or block public access to it. It subsequently sought a ruling from the Supreme Court.
The court case centred on pictures posted on the MP’s “Pannika Chor Wanich” Facebook account (Chor is Ms Pannika’s nickname) in 2010.
The Supreme Court ruled that Ms Pannika’s behaviour was an expression of disrespect for the monarchy that must be protected according to Section 6 of the Constitution and a related subsection on ethical standards.
It stated that the constitution requires MPs to refrain from posting any pictures, messages or expressions on social media that are inappropriate towards the royal institution.
According to the court, Ms Pannika’s posts showed her intention to refer inappropriately to King Rama IX and HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
Even after she was elected as an MP, she kept the inappropriate content on the Facebook account and maintained public access to it. This showed her disrespect for the royal institution, it said.
After the initial disclosure by Mr Srisuwan, Ms Pannika apologised to those offended by the Facebook post. It shows her, then aged 22, and her university classmates making a gesture deemed inappropriate in front of portraits of King Rama IX.
“I feel uncomfortable too to learn that this particular picture has triggered unconstructive conversations on social media and the use of hatred-induced language,” she said at the time.
Move Forward MP Bencha Saengchantra on Wednesday expressed disappointment with the severity of the Supreme Court ruling.
“The 2560 (2017) Constitution sets the moral framework for judging ethical wrongdoing. Criminal penalties should be dealt with accordingly. But the deprivation of political rights is the most severe destruction of basic rights,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
The Criminal Court in May this year acquitted Ms Pannika of a Computer Crime Act violation stemming from some other Facebook posts she made in 2013 and 2014.
The Ministry of Digital Economy and Society had filed a complaint in connection with poems she posted about the Ayudhya Kingdom, which it contended might cause some people to fear for the royal institution.