By THE NATION
JATUPORN PROMPAN, a key Pheu Thai Party politician and leader of the red-shirt political movement, was yesterday sentenced to a year in jail for defaming former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in a speech he made in 2009.
The Supreme Court imprisoned him without suspension and ordered him to publish an apology to Abhisit in newspapers for seven days.
The country’s highest court overruled two lower courts that had found him not guilty. While addressing about 10,000 red-shirt protesters at Phai Khiew Temple in Bangkok’s Don Muang district in May 2009, Jatuporn accused Abhisit of being a “tyrant who has his hands stained with blood for ordering the killing of people”.
Jatuporn was referring to a claim by red-shirt leaders that a number of anti-government protesters were killed during their confrontation with security forces on a Bangkok street. However, authorities at that time during the tenure of the Abhisit administration maintained that no one was killed.
Abhisit, the leader of the Democrat Party, filed his defamation case against Jatuporn, chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), in June 2009.
The Criminal Court had rejected Abhisit’s case in December 2012, saying that Jatuporn’s comment was tantamount to political retaliation in a democratic system.
Abhisit later took his case to the Appeal Court, which in 2014 upheld the lower court’s ruling and rejected his plea on grounds that Jatuporn had expressed an opinion.
The Supreme Court yesterday said Jatuporn, as a leader of the red shirt group, was involved in a bitter political conflict with Abhisit. Jatuporn’s allegation against the Abhisit in his speech certainly had an impact on the Abhisit, the court ruled.
The court found that the Jatuporn did not make his opinion honestly or criticise the plaintiff in a fair manner. His action was rather libelous.
In addition to the jail term, Jatuporn was ordered to have his written apology published in the Daily News, Thai Post and Matichon newspapers for seven days at his own cost.
The firebrand red-shirt leader had been detained at Bangkok Remand Prison since the Criminal Court in October last year ordered his bail to be revoked. Jatuporn, along with 18 other red-shirt leaders, was charged in 2010 with terrorism.
A court granted him temporary release on the condition that he did not insult or defame others or stoke unrest. But last year, the court ruled that he had violated bail conditions by using “harsh words against others” while talking politics on television.
In January, Jatuporn was granted bail again and released from detention due to a health problem and his “show of remorse” while behind bars, the court said. He was released on Bt600,000 bail on conditions that he does not leave the country without court permission and does not to break his original bail conditions again.
Corrections Department director-general Kobkiat Kasiwiwat said yesterday that Jatuporn would get good care while in detention and would be entitled to medical treatment if he suffered a kidney infection again. “When inmates get ill, they are treated by the medical team under the human rights principle,” he said. The agency will check Jatuporn’s health and produce a criminal record before sending him to jail, Kobkiat said.
He said if the red-shirt leader was sick, the department would ensure he gets medical care but would not take him to an outside hospital.
Jatuporn, 51, was born in Surat Thani. At the age of 12, following his father’s death, he moved to Bangkok’s Wat Bowonniwet Temple, where his brother was then a Buddhist monk. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Ramkhamhaeng University.
In 1996, Jatuporn joined the Palang Dharma Party, which was then led by popular politician Chamlong Srimuang. But he defected to Thaksin Shinawatra’s new Thai Rak Thai Party two years later.
After Thai Rak Thai was dissolved by a court order for vote buying, Jatuporn joined its reincarnation, the People’s Power Party. After it was dissolved, he moved to the Pheu Thai Party, which is considered another proxy of Thaksin.
Jatuporn was elected an MP and became a core leader of the pro-Thaksin UDD. In 2010, shortly after a court ordered Bt36 billion of Thaksin’s assets to be seized, Jatuporn joined other top UDD figures in leading a massive red-shirt protest that seized control of downtown Bangkok and culminated in violence in April and May. The 2010 unrest left more than 90 people dead and some 2,000 others injured. In March 2014, Jatuporn was named the top UDD leader, replacing Thida Thavornseth.