Rubber duck calendar lands Thai man in jail for insult to monarch

Court ruled the desk calendar contained pictures of yellow rubber ducks that mocked Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

A pro-democracy protester with a small rubber duck displayed on his cap holds up a mock banknote during an anti-government rally outside the headquarters of the Siam Commercial Bank in Bangkok on November 25, 2020. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)
A pro-democracy protester with a small rubber duck displayed on his cap holds up a mock banknote - also featuring a yellow duck - during an anti-government rally in Bangkok in 2020. The yellow bath toy has become a symbol of Thailand pro-democracy and pro-reform protests [File: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP]

A court in Thailand has sentenced a man to three years in jail – commuted to two years without parole, according to reports – after he was found guilty of selling a calendar that featured rubber ducks and which the prosecution claimed had defamed the country’s monarch.

Bangkok’s Criminal Court ruled that the calendar for 2021 contained pictures of yellow ducks in poses that resembled and ridiculed Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, diminishing his reputation, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) group said in a statement on Wednesday.

The suspect, Narathorn Chotmankongsin, 26, was found guilty of defamation and sentenced to three years in jail following his six-day trial which ended on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said.

The court declared that six duck illustrations in the calendar were created to mock the king, according to reports.

“This case sends a message to all Thais, and to the rest of the world, that Thailand is moving further away from – not closer to – becoming a rights-respecting democracy,” Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Prosecuting someone for selling satirical calendars “shows that Thai authorities are now trying to punish any activity they deem to be insulting the monarchy,” Pearson said.

Thailand’s pro-democracy movement has used yellow inflatable ducks to symbolise their cause for political reform, which also includes reforming the Thai monarchy “as a fundamental step toward a democratic transition”, HRW said.

According to the French news agency AFP, the suspect was initially handed a three-year prison term after he was arrested for selling the calendars on a pro-democracy Facebook page.

“But the sentence was commuted to two years without parole after the defendant gave testimony that was beneficial to the consideration,” AFP quoted the TLHR group as saying.

“The yellow bath toys became an accidental symbol of 2020’s pro-democracy protest movement after demonstrators used large inflatable ducks to shield themselves from police tear gas and water cannon,” AFP reported.

According to TLHR, more than 230 people have been charged under Thailand’s draconian lese-majeste laws since 2020.

The law allows for jail terms of between three and 15 years for anyone who defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir apparent or the regent. The law has long drawn criticism for its harshness and the ease with which anyone can file a complaint, which critics say has allowed for its use for partisan political purposes.

The law has become a focus of pro-democracy activists, who have called for it to be amended or abolished.

“Thai authorities should permit peaceful expression of all viewpoints, including those related to the monarchy,” HRW’s Pearson said.

“The government should urgently engage with United Nations experts and others about embarking on a process of amending the lese-majeste law to bring it into compliance with Thailand’s international human rights obligations.”


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies