20 January 2017—the Khon Kaen Court granted the police a fifth custody term of Mr Jatupat ‘Pai’ Boonpattaraksa, student at Khon Kaen University and key member of anti-junta groups Dao Din and New Democracy Movement (NDM), currently charged with lese majeste under Article 112 and with offences under the Computer Crime Act after allegedly sharing a BBC Thai article and quoting an excerpt in early December 2016. Jatupat had his lawyers walk out of the courtroom after the Court decided to hold the trial behind closed doors, despite his application that it not be.

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1. The inquiry officer requests a fifth detention term

Since the Khon Kaen Provincial Court had ordered the past two hearings for Pai’s detention to be held behind closed doors, today his lawyers filed a motion beforehand against a secret hearing. The motion states that, even though the Court previously cited Section 177 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the hearing for detention is a pre-trial procedure, in which the suspect has rights to lodge an application against. The content of the hearing only concerns the remand, not the case itself, therefore, there is no ground for the Court to issue such order.

The inquiry officer then requested the Court for a 12-day remand, of 21 January – 1 February 2017. According to the officer, the investigation has not been concluded. The police have found that other evidence (i.e. digital evidence) is important to the case, thus, they need more time to investigate.

Jatupat’s lawyers challenged the police request to the Court before the hearing. The application indicates three reasons as follows:

  • The suspect did not show signs or attempt to tamper with evidence, to escape, or to obstruct the investigation and the proceedings. The inquiry officer’s concern that Jatupat by posting comments on online platforms might obstruct the investigation is also redundant. Since the witnesses are competent experts with respectable jobs, Jatupat’s opinions could not influence the witnesses in a manner so as to obstruct the investigation.
  • In the past, the Court has previously granted bail in cases charged under the same offence. Jatupat merely shared a BBC article on Facebook, but did not express his own comments. As for posts on online platforms, the suspect’s acts were not deemed as criminal offences or repeated crimes. That such reasons are grounds to rid the suspect of his rights and liberties is disproportionate and redundant.
  • The suspect has not been convicted of or committed any crimes. Further, he is a final-year university student and needs to complete his degree. If the Court issues an order of detention, the suspect’s rights to freedom would be undermined. His education will be greatly affected, despite the fact that, as an accused, he is presumed innocent under the law. Also, the suspect’s acts were not deemed as criminal offences or repeated crimes, and therefore did not cause harm to the public and to society.

Furthermore, the lawyers attached a letter issued by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in response to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)’s complaint, along with the petition. The letter addresses concerns over the role of military officers during the investigation, and the bail revocation and the prosecution of Jatupat.

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2. The Court held the hearing behind closed doors; Pai had lawyers leave the room due to unjust process

Around 10 am, the Court ordered to have the hearing conducted behind closed doors. Observers were prevented from entering the room, leaving only Jatupat’s parents and lawyers present during the hearing.

The lawyers stated that an open hearing would guarantee the suspect’s liberties. The suspect had requested only because the hearing concerned a matter of pre-trial detention, and not the case itself. The hearing, therefore, should not be conducted behind closed doors. According to the lawyers, the content of past detention requests were not related to the case, but only to the number of remaining witnesses to investigate. Many lecturers, media, and observers had also come to support the suspect, under the belief that the Court would hold an open hearing in accordance with the due process.

The Court then came to a recess to consider the request. After about five minutes, the Court ordered the hearing to proceed in secret. The Court reasoned that the case was related to national security, and the offences contained high penalties. Further, the Court would review the evidence and the request thoroughly. The hearing would uphold the suspect’s rights regardless of the order. In addition, the suspect’s parents and lawyers were already allowed inside the courtroom. The Court’s decision would also be examined by each party. Thus, the Court insisted on its decision to hold the hearing behind closed doors.

Jatupat then requested his lawyers to leave the courtroom, since their presence would not change the fact that the hearing would be held in secret. According to Pai, he did not want his lawyers to undergo this unjust process any further. He also insisted that he would not verify or sign any documents produced by this hearing.

The lawyers then answered the suspect’s wish and left the courtroom. The Court accordingly proceeded with only the suspect’s father present during the hearing.

3. The Court ordered to detain Pai for another 12 days; the suspect refused to sign any documents

Around 11.10 am, the Court finished its review of the police request. Around 12.20 pm, the Court ruled in favor of the police and issued an order to remand Pai for another 12 days. The decision indicates that, since the case is a matter of national security with a high penalty exceeding ten years’ imprisonment, the police can request detention per Section 87(6). Since the suspect is alleged to have posted comments on online platforms, the officers need time to gather all evidence related to the case in order to proceed. According to the police, the case is to be submitted to the committee on lese majeste offences (of Provincial Police Region 4) and the Chief of Police, before concluding the investigation. Therefore, the Court held, there are reasonable grounds to request another period of detention.

The Court further requested the lawyers to sign the hearing documents. The lawyers stated that there were not aware of the hearing’s content since they had walked out of the courtroom before it began. For that reason, they could not sign or verify any documents. Jatupat also did not sign the documents.

About 40 activists, students, and lecturers had come to give moral support to Jatupat at the Khon Kaen Court. They included renowned scholar Sulak Sivaraksa, Thammasat University lecturer Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, activists from New Democracy Movement and Resistant Citizens, among others. Also present at the scene were many military officers, led by Lt Col Phitakphon Chusri, Deputy Chief of the Operations Directorate at the 33rd Military Circle in Khon Kaen province—who accused Jatupat of a lese majeste offence.

Section 177 of the Criminal Code: the Court may, of its own motion or on the application of either party, issue an order that the hearing be held behind closed doors, provided that it is in interest of public order or good morals, or in order to prevent secrets concerning the security of the State from being disclosed to the public.