Thanat Thanawatcharanon, popularly known as Tom Dundee, is a Thai country and blues singer arrested in July 2014 charges with “insulting the monarchy” and “computer crimes” under Thailand’s lèse majesté law. He was sentenced on June 1, 2016 to 7 years, 6 months in prison, and given an additional 3 years, 4 months on July 11, 2016.
Thanat was arrested at the urging of members of the royalist yellow-shirt group. He attracted the group’s attention when speaking at a November 2013 protest by the pro-democracy red-shirt group. This speech was determined by a military court to be insulting to Thailand’s King Bhumibol, who has been the country’s figurehead since 1946, through 11 coups d’état. The second charge of “computer crimes” along with another of “insulting the monarchy” relates to YouTube videos of the speeches which are no longer available online.
Thanat’s charges were brought before a military court following Thailand’s 2014 military coup. That coup saw the military, self-appointed representatives of the King, take full control of the country after a scandal surrounding the exiled prime minister.
Under the military government, lèse majesté trials have consistently led to guilty rulings in questionable trials. Thanat’s trial was delayed as he was denied bail three times during his near-two-year detention. It has become commonplace for Thai military courts to arbitrarily deny bail in attempts to force a guilty plea from defendants.
This was the outcome of Thanat’s repeated denial of bail, as he pled guilty to the charges in hearings on June 1 and 21, 2016. These hearings were only scheduled after Thanat stated his intention to plead guilty.
The judge presiding over the singer’s trial instructed him to write a song promoting national unity after serving his sentence, and to plant trees in honor of the king.
Thanat hopes to avoid his total of 10 years, 10 months in prison by appealing for a royal pardon. The military government often manipulates trials to force defendants into seeking royal pardons. Many speculate that this is to increase their legitimacy as the representative of King Bhumibol by being seen to carry out his will.
King Bhumibol is generally popular across party lines. Interestingly, the king himself invited increased criticism in a 2005, but the military government has regardless seen a sharp increase in lèse majesté charges.
Thanat Thanawatcharanon is currently imprisoned in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is scheduled to remain until April 2027.