The lese majeste trial of Ekachai Hongkangwan, a man arrested for peddling pirated copies of a news documentary produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) about the future of the Thai monarchy and the lese majeste law began yesterday.
Ekachai, who is in his thirties, said he hoped to establish the fact that the video, along with two manuscripts of WikiLeaks cables he is being charged for under the lese majeste law were factual and did not constitute defamation of the monarchy.
He was arrested on March 10 last year for selling pirated CD copies of the ABC documentary for Bt20 each and detained for nine days before being released on bail.
"I don’t think the content is defamatory," he told The Nation just before the trial began.
Ekachai hoped that the ABC, which is funded by the Australian government, would issue a statement stating that the documentary, which he illicitly copied and peddled, did not contain anything fabricated, non-factual or defamatory.
No correspondents from the ABC were present at the trial yesterday, which Ekachai said suggested made him feel that they lacked "compassion". However, Zoe Daniel, the ABC’s Bangkok-based Southeast Asia correspondent, tweeted yesterday that she was in India and unable to cover the trial.
Ekachai handed The Nation a copy of an e-mail from the ABC dated August 15 last year, stating that it was not in a position to assist and that the programme was made for an Australian audience.
"We did not in any way encourage people to take the type of action that you say you took. In fact, that action breached the ABC’s copyright in the programme," wrote Rob Simpson, the ABC director for Legal and Business Affairs. "In these circumstances the ABC will not be providing any statements. There should be no further need to contact the ABC. In particular, you should not contact any of our staff in Thailand as they have had nothing to do with the programme."
The only sympathy from the ABC was one polite sentence from Simpson saying: "I am sorry to hear the issues that you face."
At the beginning of the trial yesterday the presiding judges wanted to hold the trial in camera but The Nation objected, saying it was constitutional and that holding a trial in secret was contrary to standard legal procedure in democratic countries. The judges eventually allowed observers to remain but the video was not shown.
Police Lieut Major Somyot Udomraksasab, who ordered the arrest of Ekachai, stood as one of two prosecution witnesses yesterday. He said he believed the ABC report, which contains video footage involving HRH the Crown Prince, was defamatory. Somyot also testified that he believed that WikiLeaks texts claiming to refer to words by leading Thai politicians such as the late prime minister Samak Sundaravej, former premier Anand Panyarachun and Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanond also contained defamatory remarks about the monarchy.
Ekachai’s defence lawyer Arnon Nampha tried to dwell on the facts of some of the information deemed as defamatory – whether it was true or not. But the judges told him they were not out to prove whether the alleged defamatory statements in the video and texts were accurate in reality or not.
"Whether it’s true or not, if you prove it, what will be gained from it?" one of the presiding judges said to Arnon.