By Saksith Saiyasombut,

On May 16, when the street battles between the soldiers and the anti-government protesters were bringing large parts of Bangkok to a grinding halt for days already, elsewhere life in the capital went on as normal as, for example, the Nataraj Awards, the national television and radio awards, took place that evening. 

The most notable moment during the award ceremony was the acceptance speech of actor Pongpat Wachirabanjong for best supporting actor. Here’s the video with English subtitles. 

The speech has, as evidently seen in the video, touched many Thais and hit a nerve among a certain group of people. It was forwarded via email, Twitter and heralded as the ‘best speech ever’ or ‘a true patriotic act of loyalty’. 

Last week, the very same actor was hit with a legal charge for lèse majesté…

Actor Pongpat Wachirabanjong will be summoned to hear his lese majeste charges on July 29, and if he fails to show up after two summons have been issued, police will seek an arrest warrant for the man, Deputy Bangkok Police Chief Pol MajGeneral Amnuay Nimmano said yesterday.

The police are also planning to invite witnesses, lawyers and Thai language experts to listen to the actor’s acceptance speech at this year’s Nataraj Awards as part of the investigation. Amnuay said the case should be concluded within a month. 

Despite media and social networks describing Pongpat’s speech as a moving declaration of his love for His Majesty, singer Phumpat Wongyachavalit filed a lese majeste complaint against the actor on June 23, accusing him of using inappropriate words.

Pongpat summoned to hear charges

, The Nation, July 22, 2010

Of all people he is now charged with lèse majesté?! So what is the inappropriate use of words?

Police Wednesday summoned Pongpat to surrender to face lese majesty charge after a singer filed complaint with police, alleging Pongpat had insulted His Majesty the King by simply calling His Majesty as “father”.

PM says police should consult special advisory panel on Pongpat’s case“, The Nation, July 22, 2010

This is certainly a very odd case, since the use of the word “father” (or more correctly “Father”) in connection to HM the King is widely used in Thai language. 

Even the prime minister got involved in this case and has suggested that the police should contact a recently set-up advisory board that deals with these kind of cases. The result came back very quickly and the case against Pongpat has now been (unsurprisingly) dropped!

Nevertheless this whole strange act again shows the discrepancies of the authorities dealing with lèse majesté cases. (I’m NOT discussing the law itself!) One can be amazed by the speed the police has dealt with this charge – from filing until the dismissal it took only just more than a month. Also, no efforts have been wasted, language experts have been invited by the police to determine whether the use of word in this context was illegal or not. There are other more obvious cases that are still lingering in legal limbo.

The other point is Pongpat’s speech itself, which coincided with the last days of the red shirts’ protests. The key phrase, “If you hate our Father, if you don’t love our Father anymore, then you should get out of here!”, which was followed by the audience cheering and applauding enthusiastically, sets a worrying subtext of “if you’re not for us, you’re against us” – and even more scarier was the reaction by the crowd.

Saksith Saiyasombut