In April 2021, the use of “laws” to accuse people participating in protests and expressing political opinions was continuously on the rise. According to the TLHR statistics, at least 635 people (including 39 youths under 18 years old) in 301 cases have been charged for political involvement and expression in the past nine months since the Free Youth rally on 18 July 2020 until the end of April 2021.
Compared to the figures as of the end of March 2021, 54 individuals in 33 cases were added (only counting those who had not been charged before).
The cases can be divided according to charges, as follows:
- “Lèse-majesté” or the Section 112 of the Penal Code: 88 people in 81
- “Sedition” in the Section 116 of the Penal Code: 103 people in 27
- “Being assembled together do an act of violence to cause a breach of the peace” in the Section 215 of the Penal Code: 184 people in 36
- Violation of the Emergency Decree: 479 people in 136 cases, which are divided into 23 cases during the declaration of a serious emergency situation in Bangkok and 105 cases involving the breaching of the Covid-19-related provisions.
- Public Assembly Act of 2015: 99 people in 64 cases
- Computer Crime Act: 43 people in 47 cases.
Among all Emergency Decree cases, 35 cases contain additional charges under the Public Assembly Act, even though the Section 3 (6) of the law explicitly requires that the law not be used on public assemblies during the declaration of an emergency situation.
Out of the 301 mentioned cases, 52 have already been concluded, as the accused had settled for fine penalties at the police stage or in court. These mainly concerned charges with only fine penalties, such as those under the Cleanliness Act, failure to notify about the public assembly, or traffic obstruction. In addition, one case was not indicted by the public prosecutor.
The TLHR has made the following important observations regarding the prosecution tendency identified in March 2021
1. The use of the lese-majeste charge is ongoing. The issues of bail and fair trial are still problematic.
Only five months since the end of November 2020, the number of people charged with the lese-majeste law has rapidly soared to at least 88 people in 81 cases (See also: The number of prosecutions under “Lese Majeste” in 2020-2021). In April, 6 people in 7 cases have been additionally accused.
It has been found that these new cases arising in the past month were mainly filed at the TCSD and Bang Kaew Police Station, Samut Prakan Province. The majority concerned cases initiated by “ordinary citizens”, who reported incidents of online expression with the police. Especially at Bang Kaew Police Station, one individual had filed reports against many Facebook users last year and the police officers have now slowly begun to issue warrants summoning the accused to hear the charges. In addition, the Bang Kaew police officers sought detention from the court of those who had reported themselves at the police station despite having the summon warrants. As a result, the accused had to provide security for bail.
The denial of bail in section 112 trials is still a prominent issue. The key Ratsadon leaders were still denied bail despite repeated request submission. Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak, in particular, has been on hunger strike for over a month, while the Court has rejected all 9 requests for bail for his case so far.
Meanwhile, ‘Mor Lam Bank’ Patiwat Saraiyaem, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa have been temporarily released on bail under the conditions that they would not engage in activities that caused damages to the Monarchy and travel abroad. Also, Pornchai and Pornpimol, who had been detained during the section 112 trial in Chiang Mai, were released on bail after the First Court’s order was successfully appealed.
Nonetheless, Wanwalee Thammasattaya, another political activist indicted by the prosecutor in a section 112 case for speaking at the #6December protest, was denied bail by the Thanyaburi Criminal Court during trial.
By the end of April 2021, at least 10 people were detained during section 112 trial (See also: numbers of political detainees being held in detention during investigation or pending trial in 2021). Furthermore, the spread of Covid-19 within prisons has affected one political prisoner, namely Chukiat Saengwong. Therefore, the health conditions in prisons need to be further monitored.
In parallel, the Court trials also gained importance, especially those of the detained Ratsadon leaders that attracted a lot of public attention. The section 112 trial procedures proceeded with great difficulties and obstacles, which affected the Defendants’ right to fair trial. For instance, relatives and observers were not allowed to attend the hearings despite them not having been ordered a secret trial, defendants were strictly supervised by correctional and court officers, lawyers were unable to confer with their clients in privacy, mobile phones were confiscated during trials, and the right to bail was rejected.
2. The number of people arrested due to court-front expression and the use of contempt of court charge have increased.
In April, authorities arrested and charged people who organized activities in front of the court to demand the right to bail for the political detainees. Mongkol ‘Bas’ Thirakot, an activist from Chiang Rai who performed hunger strike in front of the Criminal Court during the Songkran Festival, was arrested and charged with section 112 at Mueang Chiang Rai Police Station. “Samana Daodin”, who also went on hunger strike in front of the Criminal Court as well, were arrested twice, which led him to have 4 cases on him as a result. Especially, he was charged with mocking monks by wearing monk clothes. In addition, it was also reported that at least 5 people who camped in front of the court were arrested at night and fined with the Cleanliness Act.
The political trials and the denial of bail for the Ratsadon leaders have also led to broad criticism against judicial institutions. The expression and activities in the court area have also led to an increase of the “contempt of court” cases. It was found that at least 5 of these cases already awaited trials. The political situation in March and April, including the reading of the statement criticizing the judicial process and announcing the hunger strike in courtroom by Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak, the photo-taking case of Attapon Buapat, Anurak Jentawanit, and Chinnawat Chankrajang, or the speech in front of the court by Nawapon Ton-ngam and Lertsak Kamkongsak, as well as the prosecution of the expression against the judiciary, deserves to be closely monitored in the following months.
3. An expedition of the indictment process by public prosecutors
April shows a tendency where public prosecutors have expedited the indictment process in many political cases. According to the TLHR, at least new 15 cases were found to have been filed to the court (3 of which were section 112 cases), while only 27 political cases happening since mid-2020 had been in court’s hands before this month.
Moreover, the cases involving multiple cases, which were a recent phenomenon emerged during February – March 2021, have also been indicted at a relatively rapid pace, when compared to the political cases last year, most of which were not indicted yet.
The cases that were indicted includes the rally on 28 February 2021, in front of the 1st Infantry Regiment, for two cases, the arrest of We Volunteer guards at Major Ratchayothin on 6 March 2021, the case of Moo Ban Thaloo Fah which was dispersed on 28 March 2021 for three cases.
In the cases of Moo Ban Thaloo Fah, the public prosecutor took one month from the charges informing to the indictment day. The cases have several accused which resulted in a high surety for bail pending trial.
Moreover, there were three cases related to article 112 being indicted, e.g. the case of Sirichai Natueng, Thammasat University’s student who sprayed “repeal 112”, the case of giving a speech at 6 December 2020 rally at Wong Wien Yai of Tee Wanwalee and Justin Chukiet, and the portrait disassemble at Thammasat University, Lampang campus, in October 2020.
Meanwhile, one case was not indicted by public prosecutors which is the rally on 26 July 2020 at Lampang, which four individuals were alleged of breeching Emergency Decree. The public prosecutor cited that the rally was not crowded, organized in an open space, and people wore mask which there was no evidence showing the spreading of COVID-19 in the province. Moreover, this is a political expression which is guaranteed in the Thai Constitution.
This is the only case that the public prosecutors used their discretion not to indict. However, other cases charged with Emergency Decree violation are still indicted even though there has been no report on the spread of COVID-19 due to the public assembly in 2020.
4. The harassment of people who posted monarchy-related content continues.
This month, the TLHR received reports about the harassment by state authorities at home of people who posted or shared monarchy-related content or expressed political opinions in various forms. 15 such cases have been reported, which came from different provinces all over the country, such as Chiang Mai, Samut Sakon, Ratchaburi, Chainat, Khon Kaen, Buengkan, and Maha Sarakham.
The noteworthy tendency was the monitoring of the people who shared posts containing monarchy-related texts from the page “Kon Thai UK”. 9 out of 15 abovementioned cases were related to this, many of whom had simply shared the posts without any captions. The authorities usually reacted by asking the users to remove the said posts. In some cases, users were handed a form to fill/sign, such as the “report of the attitude adjustment talk”, or an agreement to refrain from sharing or expressing opinions about the monarchy.
Moreover, it has been reported that an individual in Chainat province, who had only liked the image of a person spraying the text “abolish section112, was summoned by the police for inquiry as a witness, as well as asked the reason why he/she had liked the picture. In Buengkan, police officers, together with the village head, paid a visit to the house of at least 2 activists, after they had fixed the banner with the text “abolish 112” on the flyover bridges in the province.