28 August 2023

Artn’t



Two performance artists have each been given suspended sentences, after being found guilty of violating the lèse-majesté law and the Flag Act. Vitthaya Klangnil and Yotsunthon Ruttapradit—both Chiang Mai University students and cofounders of the group Artn’tdisplayed a modified version of the Thai flag at CMU in 2021. The charges against them were filed by Srisuwan Janya, head of the Constitution Protection Association pressure group.

The Flag Act prohibits “any act in an insulting manner to the flag, the replica of the flag or the colour bands of the flag”. The Status in Statu (รัฐพิลึก) exhibition featured a roll of fabric modified in a similar way to Artn’t’s flag, but avoided prosecution. Supamok Silarak’s documentary Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) followed Vitthaya during the police investigation into his protest art.

26 August 2023

Sondhi Limthongkul:
“I will definitely sue…”


Prachatai

Media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul has filed defamation charges against the online news organisation Prachatai. The lawsuit, issued on 22nd August, claims that Prachatai misrepresented Sondhi’s opinion and falsely implied that he supports another coup. Addressing Prachatai via Manager (ผู้จัดการรายวัน), the newspaper he owns, he said: “I will definitely sue... be prepared to receive a summons”.

In a Facebook post on 31st July, Sondhi had speculated on the future of Thai politics, listing thirteen potential scenarios, the last of which was a coup, which he described as “ไร้ความชอบธรรม” (‘illigitimate’). Later that day, Prachatai reported Sondhi’s comments on its website, though its headline omitted the word ‘illigitimate’.

Prachatai’s headline arguably did misrepresent Sondhi’s comments. But the first sentence of the article rectified this by quoting his reference to an ‘illigitimate coup’. The article also went on to quote Sondhi’s list of thirteen scenarios in full.

In the past, other news organisations have quoted Sondhi appearing to endorse coups. In an interview with the Bangkok Post (26th August 2008, p. 3), he said that “soldiers today are cowards”, implying that they were not brave enough to launch another coup. The New York Times quoted him saying: “I see a coup as not a bad thing,” and reported that “Sondhi publicly called for yet another military intervention” (3rd November 2020, p. 10; reprinted in the next day’s international edition, p. 3).

Sondhi’s PAD campaign paved the way for the 2006 coup, either intentionally or otherwise. At that time, Sondhi also sued another news outlet for defamation, claiming that Kom Chad Luek (คมชัดลึก) had misrepresented his comments about King Rama IX. In that case, the editor resigned and the newspaper suspended publication for five days.

20 August 2023

Don’t Expect Anything!



The entire cast of a new film have been arrested by the Burmese military government, on charges of blasphemy and insulting the dignity of the monkhood. Thirteen actors—including a twelve-year-old girl—and the film’s Swiss director, Didier Nusbaumer, were arrested on 8th August.

The feature-length drama Don’t Expect Anything! (ဘာမှမမျှော်လင့်ပါနဲ့) was uploaded to YouTube on 24th July, and remains online despite the arrests. It was produced by Dhamma Pictures, a non-profit organisation that promotes Buddhist teachings.

Representation of Buddhist monks is also a highly sensitive issue in the Thai film industry, most recently leading to censorship of the horror film Hoon Payon (หุ่นพยนต์). Thai Cinema Uncensored includes a complete history of the various controversies surrounding the depiction of Buddhist monks on film.

19 August 2023

Pura Luka Vega


Pura Luka Vega

Filipino drag artist Pura Luka Vega is facing criminal charges after dressing as Jesus and singing Ama Namin, a Tagalog translation of the Lord’s Prayer. Vega posted a video of the performance on X (the new name for Twitter) on 9th July; the clip went viral, and the artist has since deleted it. Senators in the Philippines have condemned the video as blasphemous, and police are investigating complaints that it violates article 201 of the country’s penal code, which prohibits public indecency.

Artist Mideo Cruz faced the same charge in 2011, when his installation Poleteismo (‘polytheism’) was shown at the Kulo (‘boil’) exhibition in Manila, though he was ultimately vindicated by the Supreme Court in 2013. Kittredge Cherry’s book Art That Dares discusses previous examples of gay and feminine depictions of Christ.

08 August 2023

Red Poetry



Supamok Silarak’s film Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) will be shown in Chiang Mai this weekend, at a rooftop screening organised by Untitled for Film. The feature-length documentary profiles the activities of performance artist Vitthaya Klangnil, who formed the group Artn’t with fellow student Yotsunthon Ruttapradit. A shorter version—Red Poetry: Verse 1 (เราไป ไหน ได้)—was shown last year at Wildtype 2022.

The documentary, filmed in 2021, shows the level of endurance and commitment Vitthaya invests in his protest art. A durational performance—sitting in front of Chiang Mai’s Tha Pae Gate for nine full days—led to his collapse from exhaustion. In another action, he climbed onto Chiang Mai University’s main entrance, repeatedly slapped himself in the face, and jumped into a pond below. When he reported to the police to answer charges of sedition, he vomited blue paint outside the police station. The film ends with Vitthaya carving “112” into his chest, in protest at the lèse-majesté (article 112) charges he faced after he exhibited a modified version of the Thai flag in 2021.

Red Poetry will be screened on 13th August at Chiang Mai University’s Department of Media Arts and Design, followed by a Q&A with the director. This is its third under-the-radar screening in Chiang Mai, the city in which it was filmed: it was previously shown at Chiang Mai University Art Center and at Suan Anya. There are currently no plans to show it in Bangkok, where it might attract unwanted attention. It would almost certainly be cut or banned if submitted to the censors, not least because in one sequence, during the Tha Pae Gate performance, Vitthaya and a royalist passerby debate the hypothetical scenario of Thailand as a republic.

04 August 2023

‘Giorgia Meloni... Fascist!’


Sonic Park

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is suing Brian Molko, lead singer of the British rock band Placebo, for defamation after he called her a fascist at a concert in Italy last month. During the performance, Molko said: “Giorgia Meloni—pezzo di merda! Fascista! Razzista! Vaffanculo!” (‘Giorgia Meloni—piece of shit! Fascist! Racist! Go fuck yourself!’).

After the concert, at Sonic Park Stupinigi in Nichelino on 11th July, local police investigated Molko for defaming a public institution (namely, the office of the Prime Minister). Meloni has now filed a personal lawsuit against Molko, accusing him of libel. (More than a decade ago, Madonna was sued by French politician Marine Le Pen after depicting her as a Nazi at a concert.)

30 July 2023

Rock Home Town


Rock Home Town

The lead singer of the Chinese rock band 暴力香槟 (‘violent champagne’) has been arrested in Shijiazhuang for ‘immoral behaviour’ after briefly dropping his shorts during a gig at Xiandan Livehouse on 22nd July. The crowd at the Rock Home Town festival encouraged him to go further, shouting: “Drop your pants!” (Earlier this year, a Chinese comedian was detained after using a People’s Liberation Army slogan as a punchline.)

29 July 2023

Donald Trump v. CNN:
“Bad rhetoric is not defamation…”


State of the Union

Donald Trump’s defamation lawsuit against CNN has been dismissed by a judge whom Trump appointed during his presidency. Trump sued CNN for $475 million last year, accusing the network of maliciously comparing him to Hitler by describing his false statements about the 2020 presidential election result as ‘the big lie’, a phrase used by Hitler in his autobiography Mein Kampf (‘my struggle’).

In his dismissal, issued yesterday, District Judge Raag Singhal criticised CNN’s inflammatory rhetoric, though he ruled that it was not libellous: “The Court finds Nazi references in the political discourse (made by whichever ‘side’) to be odious and repugnant. But bad rhetoric is not defamation when it does not include false statements of fact.” Singhal, appointed by Trump in 2019, concluded that “CNN’s statements while repugnant, were not, as a matter of law, defamatory.”

27 July 2023

Democracy after Death:
The Tragedy of Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan



There will be a rare screening of Neti Wichiansaen’s film Democracy after Death: The Tragedy of Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan (ประชาธิปไตยหลังความตาย เรื่องเศร้าของลุงนวมทอง) this evening. The rooftop screening, at Chiang Mai University’s Department of Media Arts and Design, was organised by Untitled for Film. (Democracy after Death was also shown in Chiang Mai last year.)

Democracy after Death’s voiceover narration is addressed to Nuamthong Praiwan, a pro-democracy protester who committed suicide in 2006. Nuamthong was also the subject of Prap Boonpan’s short film Letter from the Silence (จดหมายจากความเงียบ) and Rap Against Dictatorship’s music video 16 ปีแล้วไอ้สัส (‘it’s been 16 years, ai sat’).

13 July 2023

“Fox repeatedly published defamatory falsehoods...”


Tucker Carlson Tonight

One of the rioters who took part in the attempted insurrection at the US Capitol on 6th January 2021 is suing Fox News for defamation. In a lawsuit filed yesterday, Ray Epps claims that former Fox host Tucker Carlson falsely implied that he was an undercover FBI agent involved in orchestrating the insurrection.

According to the lawsuit, “Fox repeatedly published defamatory falsehoods about Epps, including by broadcasting and rebroadcasting defamatory statements by Tucker Carlson”. It singles out the 6th January 2023 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight for “communicating as a fact that Epps was a federal agent planted to encourage supporters of Donald Trump to go into the Capitol building on January 6—the core false and defamatory allegation upon which this Complaint by Epps against Fox is predicated.”

In its defence against a previous libel action relating to Carlson, Fox argued that his comments “cannot reasonably be interpreted as facts”, and that his show should be viewed with “an appropriate amount of skepticism”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Carlson was dismissed by the network earlier this year.

08 July 2023

Rama X:
The Thai Monarchy under King Vajiralongkorn


Royal Gazette

As the proverb says, don’t judge a book by its cover. But a forthcoming academic book, Rama X: The Thai Monarchy under King Vajiralongkorn, has been banned from distribution in Thailand on the basis of its cover. It will be published in the US later this year, and anyone importing it into Thailand faces up to three years in jail and/or a ฿60,000 fine. Police are authorised to confiscate and destroy any imported copies of the book, as it may contravene the lèse-majesté law.

The announcement of the ban was published in the Royal Gazette (ราชกิจจานุเบกษา) yesterday (vol. 140, no. 163, p. 45). It misidentified the book—the word ‘under’ is missing from the subtitle—though anyone charged with distributing it would presumably be unwise to rely on that technicality for their defence.

Rama X has not yet been published, thus the ban is based on its cover and the reputation of its editor, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic who left the country to avoid being detained by the junta after the 2014 coup. (Similarly, Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s book A Kingdom in Crisis was banned based on newspaper reviews.)

Official bans on books and print media are rare, as their announcement in the Royal Gazette draws attention to the publications in question (the so-called ‘Streisand effect’). Harry Nicolaides, for example, sold only a handful of copies of his self-published novel Verisimilitude, though it became an international headline once it was banned. An issue of the French magazine Marie Claire was banned seven years ago. Two books by Giles Ji Ungpakorn, A Coup for the Rich and Thailand’s Crisis, are also on the banned list. An issue of the Thai journal Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกัน; vol. 3, no. 4) was banned due to its interview with scholar Sulak Sivaraksa. The most notorious title on the list, Paul M. Handley’s The King Never Smiles, was published, like Rama X, by Yale University Press.

Pavin’s previous books, such as Coup, King, Crisis and “Good Coup” Gone Bad, were not banned, though they are not available within Thailand. Sarakadee (สำรคดี) magazine (vol. 22, no. 260) published an extensive article on the history of book censorship, and Underground Buleteen (no. 8) printed a list of books banned between 1932 and 1985.

02 July 2023

BirG√ľn



A Turkish journalist has been charged with encouraging terrorist organisations to target counterterrorism officials, and faces up to three years in jail if convicted. The charge stems from a complaint by Akın Gürlek, a government minister and former judge, who was mentioned in a newspaper article by Ayça Söylemez.

The article, which had the ironic headline “Yetenekli hâkim bey” (‘the talented judge’), was published by BirGün on 18th February 2020. In a statement to police after her arrest, Söylemez explained that she was merely giving background details on the judicial cases Gürlek presided over, “which are already publicly available information. Therefore, it cannot be said that I made Akın Gürlek a target of any organization.”

29 June 2023

E. Jean Carroll:
“Oh yes, you did. That’s my response...”


CNN

Donald Trump and E. Jean Carroll are suing each other for defamation, based on interviews they each gave to CNN on the same day. Carroll was awarded $5 million in damages on 9th May after Trump was found guilty in a civil trial of sexually assaulting her, though the jury cleared him of rape. Carroll and Trump were interviewed on separate CNN shows on the day after the verdict.

Appearing on CNN’s This Morning, Carroll said of her rape allegation: “Oh yes, you did. Oh yes, you did. That’s my response.” (Her answer has been widely misquoted as “Oh yes, he did.”) According to Trump’s lawsuit, filed on 27th June, “these false statements were clearly contrary to the jury verdict”.

Carroll is also suing Trump for remarks he made on the same day. Reacting to the sexual assault verdict in a CNN interview, Trump said of Carroll: “I don’t know her, I never met her, I have no idea who she is.”

14 June 2023

“Malaysia Airlines flight going missing not funny, huh?”


Jocelyn Chia

Malaysian police have asked Interpol to locate comedian Jocelyn Chia, following a joke she made about a 2014 aeroplane disaster. Chia’s set at the Comedy Cellar club in New York on 7th April included references to MH370, a flight that crashed under unexplained circumstances, killing more than 200 passengers and crew. After joking that Malaysian aeroplanes “cannot fly”, she responded to the audience reaction with mock surprise: “Malaysia Airlines flight going missing not funny, huh? Some jokes don’t land!”

The routine was uploaded to Chia’s social media channels (Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram) on 7th June, though it was deleted following criticism from the Malaysian and Singaporean governments. (Chia grew up in Singapore.) A Malaysian comedian was fined for offending religious sentiments earlier this year, and last month a Chinese comedian was fined for satirising the People’s Liberation Army.

08 June 2023

“You becoming the prime minister means nothing to me...”


BBC Thai

Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward Party and potential Thai prime minister after his victory in last month’s election, has been accused of lèse-majesté by several royalist pressure groups who filed a complaint against him yesterday. The complainants accused him of disrespecting the monarchy in a BBC News interview published online on 29th May. (An extended version, with Thai subtitles, has been viewed more than a million times.)

Reforming the lèse-majesté law was a key part of Move Forward’s manifesto, and in the interview Pita told reporter Jonathan Head: “I don’t want the monarchy to be used as a political weapon”. Pita also told the BBC: “if I get a chance to sit down and talk to... people who actually want to increase the penalty of royal defamation, I think we’d be able to find a common ground”. (That comment seemed idealistic, as ultra-royalists have generally been unwilling to compromise on their campaign to punish those who question the monarchy.)

After making the police report, Songchai Niamhom, leader of the King Protection Group, denied that his complaint was politically motivated. Addressing Pita directly, he said: “you becoming the prime minister means nothing to me... but any day you harm or have ideas against the main institution of the nation, I will continue to file complaints against you”. Despite his denial, the lèse-majesté charge does appear to be a political threat, as Songchai has previously used the same tactic against another Move Forward MP, Amarat Chokepamitkul. (He has also filed lèse-majesté charges against the rapper P9D.)

Head himself has also previously been charged with lèse-majesté, in relation to eleven articles published on the BBC News website. (His byline did not appear on some of the articles in question, and the charges related to elements for which he had no responsibility, such as the layout of photographs of King Rama IX.) He also faced a defamation charge after his 2015 investigative report into legal malpractice in Phuket.

02 June 2023

‘The trial of the century’


The Sydney Morning Herald

Ben Roberts-Smith—a Victoria Cross recipient and former SAS soldier—has lost his libel suit against three Australian newspapers that had accused him of war crimes. The case has been dubbed ‘the trial of the century’ by the Australian media, as Roberts-Smith is the country’s most-decorated living soldier and the newspapers had accused him of murdering unarmed prisoners of war in Afghanistan.

The allegations against Roberts-Smith were first published by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, and The Age. He was not named in the initial reports, in June 2018, though his identity was revealed two months later. Australian police launched an investigation into the claims, though no criminal charges were brought, and Roberts-Smith sued for defamation.

Yesterday, judge Anthony Besanko ruled in the publishers’ favour, finding that most of the allegations against Roberts-Smith were true. The verdict in this civil defamation case has destroyed the reputation of an Australian national hero, and it may lead to calls for a reopening of the criminal investigation into Roberts-Smith’s war crimes.

28 May 2023

This Is Not a Drill


This Is Not a Drill

German police have launched an investigation into Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, who is currently performing a solo world tour, This Is Not a Drill. A Berlin police spokesman accused him of wearing a costume “capable of approving, glorifying or justifying the violent and arbitrary rule of the Nazi regime in a manner that violates the dignity of the victims and thereby disrupts public peace”.

After the show’s interval, Waters returns to the stage wearing a black trenchcoat with a red armband depicting two crossed hammers. The same logo also appears on banners hanging from the roof, in the style of a Nazi rally, as Waters performs the songs In the Flesh and Run Like Hell. (It was first used in Pink Floyd’s film The Wall.)

Waters performed at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin on 17th and 18th May, and has also played at other German cities (Hamburg on 7th May, Cologne on 9th May, Munich on 21st May, and Frankfurt today). Displaying Nazi-inspired insignia is illegal in Germany, though Waters insists that he was parodying Nazism rather than endorsing it.

Madonna’s use of Nazi imagery at a concert also led to a legal challenge. In 2012, fascist French politician Marine Le Pen sued her for defamation after she superimposed a swastika onto a photograph of Le Pen’s face during her MDNA Tour. In an uncharacteristic act of self-censorship, Madonna replaced the swastika with a question mark at her next French concert in Nice.

25 May 2023

Red Poetry


Red Poetry

Supamok Silarak’s film Red Poetry (ความกวีสีแดง) will be shown in Chiang Mai tomorrow morning. The feature-length documentary follows the activities of performance artist Vitthaya Klangnil, who formed the group Artn’t with fellow student Yotsunthon Ruttapradit. Vitthaya is shown carving “112” into his chest, in protest at the lèse-majesté (article 112) charges they faced after they exhibited a modified version of the Thai flag in 2021.

Red Poetry is screening on 26th May at Chiang Mai University Art Center, as part of the Cinemata Big Screen: Stories of Solidarity film festival. It was previously shown at Suan Anya in Chiang Mai earlier this year, and a shorter version—Red Poetry: Verse 1 (เราไป ไหน ได้)—was shown last year at Wildtype 2022. Cinemata Big Screen began on 22nd May and ends tomorrow.

24 May 2023

“Trump’s defamatory statements post-verdict show the depth of his malice toward Carroll...”


CNN

Writer E. Jean Carroll is seeking further damages from Donald Trump following his appearance on CNN’s Republican Presidential Town Hall earlier this month. Carroll was awarded $5 million in damages on 9th May after Trump was found guilty in a civil trial of sexually assaulting and defaming her. The jury concluded that Trump had assaulted Carroll in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York around thirty years ago, and that he had libelled her by denying the allegation in posts on his Truth Social website.

The day after the verdict, Trump was interviewed by Kaitlan Collins on CNN and again denied assaulting Carroll: “I don’t know her, I never met her, I have no idea who she is.” To applause from the Republican-leaning studio audience, he said: “I swear on my children, which I never do: I have no idea who this woman—this is a fake story, made-up story.” He also described Carroll as “a whack job.”

Carroll is now seeking an additional $5 million in punitive damages for libel. Her lawsuit, filed on 22nd May, claims: “Trump’s defamatory statements post-verdict show the depth of his malice toward Carroll since it is hard to imagine defamatory conduct that could possibly be more motivated by hatred, ill will, or spite.” Earlier this year, Trump was indicted on criminal charges related to his alleged concealment of hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels.

19 May 2023

“We will never allow any company or individual to wantonly denigrate the glorious image of the People’s Army...”


Xi Jinping

A Chinese comedy talent agency has been fined the equivalent of more than $2 million, due to a single-sentence punchline by one of its comedians. Li Haoshi, known by the stagename House, joked that when his dogs chased a squirrel, the sight reminded him of eight words: “作风优良能打胜仗” (‘working in good style can win the battle’). This is a military slogan used by President Xi Jinping, and has appeared on propaganda posters in China.

An audio recording of House’s 13th May performance in Beijing was released online, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism fined his management company, Xiaoguo Culture, ¥14.7 million. In a statement, the ministry said: “We will never allow any company or individual to wantonly denigrate the glorious image of the People’s Army on the stage of the capital”. A comedian was also fined in Malaysia last month, though her penalty was less than 0.1% of House’s.

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