Thai student actor and activist Pornthip Munkong was granted a royal pardon over the weekend after spending a year and a half behind bars for a satirical play she produced and acted in. She now joins fellow satirist Patiwat Saraiyaem, who was pardoned earlier this month. The two put on “The Wolf Bride,” a student play performed only once, and they were subsequently arrested and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison each. The play made light of a fictional kingdom, and Pornthip and Patiwat were jailed by Thailand’s military government, charged under lèse majesté, a controversial Thai law which bans any speech deemed to be against the monarchy.
Pornthip’s trial for the 2013 play was repeatedly delayed in a tactic employed by the military government to force guilty pleas from activists while they were held in custody and repeatedly denied bail. Pornthip told her mother during the trial that she feared a sentence of up to ten years if she maintained her innocence.
That hostile legal atmosphere led Pornthip to specifically not seek a royal pardon, out of fears that she would attract more punishment from the government.
However, a number of organizations including The Voice Project advocated for Pornthip and Patiwat’s release throughout their imprisonment.
Though Pornthip did not seek royal pardon, the action by King Bhumibol is not particularly out of character. In a 2005 speech he invited more criticism of himself and the government, and on August 12 a mass pardon was issued to celebrate the birthday of Queen Sirkit.
Saturday’s release was came after some delays and Pornthip’s boyfriend of nine years waited outside the prison for six hours each day since her pardon was announced, while her parents, both rural farmers, did not have money to stay in Bangkok past Sunday and had to return home before she was set free.
Pornthip’s release is a welcome update out of Thailand, but a number of political prisoners and artists remain imprisoned for their work and beliefs. Among them is Tom Dundee, a country and blues singer charged under the same law as Pornthip for singing at a protest.
It is unclear whether the Thai government will continue to pursue the six actors in “The Wolf Bride” who fled the country or if they are free to return home. No official comment on the other actors has been made.
Pornthip and Patiwat are each at home with their families, and face no further charges. Our thanks to everyone who participated in this campaign.