Under the rule of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which has been using the ‘law’ and ‘administration of justice’ as broad political tools to suppress political movements and citizens’ freedom of expression. It seems that lawsuits against student activists and members of the general public for staging peaceful protests, are their ‘reward’ for daring to speak out.
These are not the matters of offense, nor are they the matters of violating the ‘law’ of the leader of the state, nor of creating public disorder. The activities and political movements of today find their origins in the condemnation of the military’s unjust seizure of power. They are the cries of people who have had their freedom repeatedly obstructed and their rights repeatedly violated. The decision to protest brings with it the cost of multiple lawsuits. No one wants to go to court and no one wants to spend their time going through court proceedings, but when you fight and they hit you back, and the fallout for these protesters is this ‘reward’ for those who dare to stand firm against the power of social injustice.
According to the monitoring by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights since the 2014 military coup, Sirawit Serithiwat, or “Ja New”, is the activist who has faced the most case proceedings as for his political activism. At the end of 2018 the number of Sirawit’s cases ranked second only to Anon Nampha, a lawyer and fellow activist. However, by mid-2019, Sirawit’s political activities rendered himself with further prosecutions for three more cases, bringing his total number of prosecutions to date to thirteen.
Thus, if we count each case as a reward for courage, Sirawit would mount the podium to receive the medal for the activist who has received the highest number of prosecutions since the coup.
Photos from Nanaaa
Sirawit, aged 26, graduated with a degree in Politics from the Faculty of Political Science at Thammasat University. He first became involved in political activism after the coup, both as an individual student and as a member of the groups “Dome Front Agora”, “Resistant Citizen”, “Democratic Education Group” and, most recently, “Start Up People”. He is currently receiving the scholarship from the Indian government and will be going on to study political science and policy.
His position has been clear throughout: he opposes the coup and is calling for the restoration of power to the people; free and fair elections; and respect for people’s rights and freedoms. Yet in the name of his activism he has faced detention, intimidation and countless demonstration shut-downs and obstructions by government officials, including successive and ongoing prosecutions regarding these activities. The harassment has now reached the level of him suffering two physical assaults with grievous injuries within the same month. Government officials have still not been able to find and arrest his assailants for punishment.
The following is a summary of all the cases in which Siriwit has been accused over the past five years, prior to his most recent assault.
Cases 1 and 2 concerning (Rak) Lak Elections (our beloved election – in Thai) and concerning violation of an MOU
The first case in which Siriwit was accused occurred whilst he was still a student at Thammasat University. It arose from a joint activity with older members of the group Resistant Citizen, including Anon Nampha, Pansak Sithep and Wankiat Chusuwan, who organized the election activity “(Rak) Lak” in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre on 14 February 2015 to commemorate the elections of 2 February 2014 which had become void due to the political turmoil caused by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. During the event, Sirawit performed as a host of the activity before being detained by the authorities. All four were charged with staging a political gathering of five or more people, contrary to NCPO Announcement No. 7/2014.
Additionally, Sirawit is the only person in this case to have been charged with a separate offense, namely the charge of violation or non-compliance of the conditions for release of detained persons per NCPO Announcement No. 40/2014. This is due to the fact that the authorities claim Siriwit had breached the conditions of his signed MOU with the NCPO. On 22 June 2014 prior to this event, Sirawit had staged an activity at Siam Paragon department store, which involved eating sandwiches in protest against the coup. He was detained and made to sign an MOU stating that he would not be involved in any more political movements.
In the case of the election event (Rak) Lak, the defendants later faced prosecution at the Military Court. Court proceedings took four years, causing hardship to all four defendants who had to attend court numerous times. On 15 February 2015 therefore, the Military Court dismissed the case. In late 2018 the NCPO ordered to rescind the prohibition on political gatherings of five or more people.
Similarly, the NCPO rescinded the offense of violating conditions of release by staging political protests, as in the case of Sirawit’s MOU. The Military Court therefore ended court proceedings in this case too.
Case No. 3 – concerning riding on train to highlight corruption in Rajabhakti
This third case is well-known. During news of the corruption involved in the construction of Rajabhakti Park, Sirawit and a group of friends organised the activity ‘riding the train to Rajabhakti to highlight corruption’. On 7 December 2015 they took a scheduled train ride from Thonburi to Hua Hin in order to investigate the corruption in Rajabhakti Park. However, they were arrested by military and police officers, who ordered the train to stop at Ban Pong Railway Station and separated their passenger carriage. They detained and restricted the activists and eventually charged all nine with violating NCPO Order No. 3/2015, which prohibited political gatherings of five or more people.
This case is similar to the first two, in which Sirawit and the other defendants were accused and later prosecuted at the Military Court. This case was pending for over three years and two months before it was dismissed on 15 February 2019, due to the NCPO’s order to rescind the prohibition on political gatherings of five or more people.
Case No. 4 concerning the Public Cleanliness Act and the “Post-It Rights” activity
The next case occurred on 1 March 2016. The group “Resistant Citizen” staged the activity “Post-It Rights”, which allowed people to write messages on Post-it notes campaigning for the right to freedom of expression and for the NCPO to end proceedings against those who had exercised that right. The activity was held on the walkway of Chong Nonsi BTS station.
During the activity, police officers arrested four participants including Sirawit, who was later charged with breaching the Public Cleanliness and Order Regulation Act of 1960. The police claimed he had discarded sewage or solid waste (waste paper) in a public area by providing people with Post-its on which to write messages.
If found guilty, this offence is punishable by a fine not exceeding 2,000 Baht. Regardless, Sirawit insisted on attending court in order to testify that he did not discard waste paper in a public place due to the fact that this was an activity to oppose the arrests of people who hold different opinions to the government. However, on 12 January 2017 the Southern Bangkok District Court ruled that he was guilty of the alleged dumping of waste in a public place and gave him a 1,000 Baht fine. The Court of Appeal subsequently ruled to uphold the same penalty on 3 October 2017.
Case No. 5 concerning contempt of court at Khon Kaen Provincial Court
In this case Sirawit was accused of going as far as Khon Kaen province where his fellow students from the group Dao Din staged activities, read statements, performed poetry, sang songs and laid flowers on the pavement outside Khon Kaen Provincial Court. The activity was held to show support for activist Pai Dao Din and call for his right to be bailed out. Pai Dao Din had been charged under Section 112 for sharing news concerning the reign of King Rama 10. On 10 February 2017 therefore, Sirawit also went to support Pai and stand in the aforementioned area outside the court.
Afterwards, Sirawit and the group of six students were taken back to court in order to initiate an investigation into contempt of court per the Civil Procedure Code. In this case both the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal ruled all defendants guilty. For his part, Sirawit argued that he did not read any statements or sing with the others, but only placed flowers on the pavement and wore a mask bearing the face of Pai Dao Din. Both courts sentenced Sirawit to six months imprisonment and a fine of 500 Baht, suspended for two years, with one year on probation. The court claimed that unlike the other students, Sirawit was an adult and had graduated with a bachelor’s degree. He therefore should have had decent knowledge and understanding of the judicial process.
This case is currently ongoing as the seven defendants filed a petition concerning the case on 10 April 2019 and are awaiting a response form the Supreme Court.
Case Nos. 6-10 concerning the leaders of the People Who Want an Election
The next series of cases took place in 2018 when Sirawit became one of the leading members of the People Who Want an Election, a movement calling for the NCPO to establish a clear election date and to end its accumulation of power. The group had held numerous demonstrations from late January to May 2018, during the four-year anniversary of the NCPO’s military coup. Consequently, a total of 130 demonstration leaders and participants were prosecuted throughout this period, in a total of 10 cases.
As one of the group leaders, Sirawit was accused in five cases, namely demonstrations which took place at the Skywalk in Pathumwan (MBK 39), Democracy Monument and Ratchadamnoen Road (RDN50), Pattaya beach (PATTAYA12), outside the Army Headquarters (ARMY57), and the march from Thammasat University Tha Prachan Campus to the United Nations Headquarters in Bangkok (UN62).
These five cases of Sirawit’s still remain ongoing at various stages in the judicial process. Almost all are being prosecuted by the Court of Justice and are in the process of appointing witnesses. In the case of the demonstration in Pattaya, the charge filed by the prosecution is not for holding a political gathering of five or more people, but for failing to inform authorities of the demonstration per the Public Assembly Act. Witness examinations for this case were completed in the middle of July and Pattaya District Court has scheduled the judgment date for 31 July 2019.
Case No. 11 – concerning failure to inform on a demonstration in Tha Nam Non against election postponement
Sirawit’s eleventh case occurred in early 2019 during a time of public protest against the NCPO’s postponement of the national election date, which had previously been set for 24 February 2019. Sirawit travelled to join the New Generation Network in Nonthaburi Province to submit a letter to the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) in Nonthaburi Province opposing the election date postponement on 11 January 2019.
In this case the organisers had already given advance notice of the assembly in accordance with the Public Assembly Act, however the authorities at Nonthaburi Police Station returned the notice, disallowing the assembly and attempting to prevent it. A summons was later issued to the organisers, a total of four people including Sirawit, to hear the allegation of “gathering in a public place without permission”.
This case remains under investigation.
Case No. 12 – concerning the defamation of the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT)
Sirawit’s twelfth case occurred after the recent election. Many citizens and students were questioning the numerous problems that had occurred during the work of the Election Commission, resulting in demonstrations in several universities and other places calling for the ECT members to be impeached.
Sirawit and other activists also arranged an activity calling for the impeachment of the ECT members using the hashtag #เห็นหัวกูบ้าง (don’t overlook our goddamn head) on 31 March 2019 on the Sky Walk of Victory Monument BTS Station. Following the demonstration, Mr Chanchai, one of the ECT committee members, made an allegation against Siratwit, Phayao Akkahad and Paris Chiwarak of defamation of the ECT by their demonstration. Consequently, on 30 April 2019 the three activists staged a public walk to Phayathai Police Station to receive notice of the allegation.
This case also remains under investigation.
Case No. 13, concerning the failure to inform of an assembly in Chiang Rai to petition the Senate
The most recent case of Sirawit occurred in May 2019 when he and another student activist, Thanawat Wongchai, or “Ball”, travelled to Chiang Rai to stage an activity at the King Mengrai Monument on May 15 2019 calling for the Senate not to elect the next Prime Minister. They set up a table to write a letter to the NCPO-appointed Senate, calling for it to respect the voice of the people and not to elect General Prayuth as Prime Minister.
Following the activity, Sirawit, Thanawat and five other participants in Chiang Rai were summoned by the police to hear their charge of failing to inform the police of their assembly in accordance with the Public Assembly Act. Consequently, on 19 June 2019, after Sirawit’s first physical assault of that month, all the summoned participants travelled to hear their charges at Chiang Rai police station. The case remains under police investigation.
It should be noted that in addition to Sirawit himself, his mother, Ms Patnaree Chankit, is likewise being monitored by military officers. Following the continued activism of her son, she has been prosecuted in three political cases. The first and most serious case affecting Sirawit’s entire family was filed under Article 112, whereby military authorities accused Ms Patnaree of receiving a private Facebook message containing language which may have been interpreted as violating Article 112, to which she only replied with the word “จ้า” (“yes/okay”) on 12 March 2016.
In this case there was some doubt concerning the military officers’ acquisition of information and it created a social debate about whether or not this was a case of political persecution, given that the defendant was the mother of the activist Sirawit. In this case, the former commander of the National Police spoke against filing a lawsuit, but when his comment reached the military prosecutor, the prosecutor remained of the opinion that the case should be sent to the Bangkok Military Court. To date, the case is ongoing and in the process of examining the witnesses for the prosecution in the Military Court.
There is another case burdening Siriwit’s family. After her first prosecution, Ms Patnaree chose to fight by starting to participate on occasion in political gatherings. This was the cause of the two further accusations made against her, namely of joining the demonstrations held by the People Who Want Elections, in the MBK39 and RDN50 cases.
In addition to fighting for their rights on the streets, the courtroom has become another battleground for Sirawit and his family. In every case, Sirawit has chosen to fight to prove his innocence; to prove that peaceful political expression is normal; to prove that the coup was illegal and against social values; and to prove that the countless litigations against him are unjust.