Activist sentenced to 4 month imprisonment for Contempt of Court

Court sentenced “Bright Shinnawat” to four months’ imprisonment for Contempt of Court for delivering a speech in front of the Criminal Court on 29 April 2021 without revoking his bail for the 19 September Rally case

8 June 2021 – the Ratchada Criminal Court scheduled an examination hearing for the case against Shinnawat “Bright” Chankrajang, a young activist from Nonthaburi province. He was charged with Contempt of Court for participating in the protest on 29 April 2021, demanding the Court to uphold the right to bail for Ratsadon Group leaders detained while awaiting trial for alleged violations of Article 112 of the Criminal Code (lèse-majesté).

Chawannat Thongsom, director of the Administrative Office of the Criminal Court, was the accuser in this case. The accusation report explains that on 29 April 2021, around 300 members of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration joined an activity in which they submitted the letter of “royal injustice” to the Court and staged a public reading of the poem “Judicial Activism” on the staircase of the Criminal Court. During the event, they occasionally used an amplifier to shout out “Release our friends” among other phrases, thereby causing a disturbance inside the Criminal Court.

Shinnawat participated in the said demonstration and delivered a speech through the amplifier. In summary, he said that he would no longer respect the Court because Thai courts are murderers who fail to serve justice for democracy supporters. He further cursed those involved in incarcerating his fellow activists. Directly addressing the President of the Supreme Court, he stated that she must serve as the national guarantor of justice with the responsibility to ensure that the monarch governs Thailand’s democratic rule as the head of state within the remit defined by the constitution. The Court must recognize people’s rights and liberties and grant bail at the initial stage rather than authorize detention or postpone the consideration of bail requests. He questioned how the Court could be regarded as fair when those who carried out public activism for protecting national interests are put into jail, whereas those engaged in blatant corruption are still on the loose.

Photo of the activity in front of the Ratchada Criminal Court on 29 April 2021

Meanwhile, the accused had filed a petition to the Court, denying all charges. The defense argued that Shinnawat only delivered the speech and participated in the rally at the Criminal Court’s staircase near the police’s fence. He did not use any force nor caused harm to the lives, liberties, or properties of the Court or anyone else. Moreover, his act of delivering the speech constituted a legitimate exercise of his freedom of expression; he merely criticized the use of judiciary powers that contradict the legal principle concerning temporary release in good faith. He was only arguing that the refusal of bail shall only occur for reasons laid out in Section 108/1 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Moreover, the demonstration was not organized in a manner that intends to delay the Court’s proceedings. On the contrary, the activity’s objective was to call for the Court to approve the bail requests from defendants in the case against activists involved in the “19 September: Return Power to the People” demonstration. On that day, there was no court trial either. The accused’s actions, therefore, did not constitute Contempt of Court.

Shinnawat further testified that he was also facing another charge of “insulting the Court” at the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct for the same action. Like the case against him currently examined by the Criminal Court, this charge could result in criminal punishments. As the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct has not yet delivered its decision, it could be said that the accused is facing double jeopardy.

Notes from the examination for the “Contempt of Court case” in Trial Room No. 805

At 10:00 am, Shinnawat and his lawyer arrived at Trial Room No. 805. The young activist was wearing a t-shirt screen-printed with the number “112” crossed out. The Court began the trial at 10:16 am by examining the accused and showing the videos capturing the demonstration to the accused. Then two witnesses were asked to take the stand, including Chawannat Thongsom, director of the Administrative Office of the Criminal Court (The accuser), and Shinnawat “Bright” Chankrajang (The accused).

The Court asked the accused if he had seen the videos of the demonstration recorded in the CDs submitted as evidence. Further, the Court inquired whether the videos were edited to distort the accused’s actions. Shinnawat admitted that he was the man in the videos and that they were not edited. However, they only captured some parts of what happened, not the entire activity.

The Court requested to confirm whether the videos recorded what really happened. Therefore, Shinnawat reiterated that the videos captured only some specific parts of what happened. Many other relevant activities were not present in the CD.

Then the Court inquired whether Shinnawat went on stage to give a speech or not. Shinnawat admitted that he really delivered the speech. His words quoted in the accusation report were also accurate. However, they were not all that he said on that day. The Court responded to Shinnawat, “The Court only cares about your insults, so the accusation report did not quote the entire speech.”

Shinnawat asked the Court back, “I would like your honor to ask about my feelings and motives driving me to say those things.” The Court replied that if Shinnawat disagreed with the ruling, he could file for an appeal at the Appeal Court or Supreme Court. Later, the Court showed Shinnawat the videos and turned on a high volume to help him identify the parts that were not his speech.

After watching the video, Shinnawat told the Court that the video only captured some sections of the activity. The Court then interrupted his statement and said Shinnawat should find a recording of the entire activity to show the Court his side of the story. Shinnawat then noted that even if the existing videos showed the actual occurrences, the Court should still be fair with him and incorporate complete footage into the list of evidence for this case.

The Court answered that the case is only concerned with insults and actions against the Court. However, if the accused wanted to object to the accusation, he must find evidence to show to the Court by himself. The accused’s failure to provide such proof prevents the Court from carrying out its duty as requested, and the Court would not allow the postponement of the trial on that day. The Court asserted that the examination must be carried out on that day only and the accused needed to secure evidence that demonstrates what happened. The Court’s only responsibility is to assess and rule whether the accused committed Contempt of Court while disorder took place in the Court’s premise.

Upon consultation with the accused, the defense lawyer affirmed the Court that the accused’s behavior did not constitute Contempt of Court. The Court then responded that the accused could exercise his full right to defend himself in court. Still, the Court would continue carrying out the examination to determine whether disorder took place in court. Meanwhile, Shinnawat attempted to request the Court to examine the motive behind his actions, not just the facts about what he did.

The defense lawyer also asked the Court for an opportunity for the accused to clarify his motive because he could face criminal punishment if found guilty. The Court, however, insisted that the accused needed to find his own evidence to demonstrate his sides of the story about what happened on that day. Then the Court of Justice’s Director-General will provide their opinions about the next steps and potential punishment for the accused. Finally, the Court compared the Director-General to a house owner and the judge to a homemaker. It further revealed that the director of the Administrative Office of the Criminal Court was the one who filed an incident report about the demonstration to the Director-General of the Criminal Court.

First witness: Chawannat Thongsom, Director of the Administrative Office of the Criminal Court, (The accuser)

At 11:04 am, the Court began examining Chawannat Thongsom, Director of the Administrative Office of the Criminal Court, as the first witness. Chawanat stated that the incident took place during the day on 29 April 2021. On that day, the bail applications were filed for defendants charged for alleged violations of Article 112 (Black Criminal Case No. Aor 287/64), including Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Panassaya “Rung” Sitthijirawattanakul, and Chai-amorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan. The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration posted on their social media accounts about this event and invited the followers come to the Court to give the three activists moral support. They planned on hosting activity to submit the letter of “royal injustice” to the Director-General of the Criminal Court and staged a public reading of the poem called “Judicial Activism.”

At around noon, a group of approximately 300 people gathered in the zone adjacent to the Criminal Court’s ground floor. Later, they started to use an amplifier to create deafening noises. As a result, Pol. Lt. Col. Sakchai Kraiweeradechachai, Deputy Superintendent for Crime Suppression at Pahon Yothin Police Station, intervened and informed the protestors about the current situation of the COVID-19 outbreak and legal requirements under the Emergency Decree. However, the protestors refused to listen to the authorities.

Later, Pol Col Prasopchok Iampinij, Superintendent of Pahon Yothin Police Station, made another announcement, asking the protestors to maintain order and only exercised their freedom within the scope of the Court’s permission. Still, the protestors denied cooperation with the authorities and continued their demonstration using the amplifier to give political speeches.

After a series of disorderly events took place, the inquiry team of Pahon Yothin Police Station carried out an investigation and remarked in their inquiry report that the perpetrators violating the laws on that day included Benja Apan, Shinnawat Chankrajang, and Natchanon Pairoj.

The Court asked the witness about what each of the accused did. The witness said that Benja threw pamphlets on the Court’s floor, ran up and down the Court’s staircase, and delivered a speech recorded in the videos and the police’s inquiry report.

The witness stated further that Shinnawat was one of the accused persons in this case. He was standing among the crowd of protestors in front of the Criminal Court, using a loudspeaker to say vulgar words, according to the inquiry report of Pahon Yothin Police Station, as well as the existing video recordings. The Court asked what Shinnawat said about the Court on that day. The witness then referred to Shinnawat’s statement documented in the accusation report, which writes, “On 30 April 2021, I will visit this Criminal Court and will no longer have any respect for the Court.” She added that he insulted the Court by calling it a “murderer,” according to the inquiry report of Pahon Yothin Police Station and the video recordings.

After receiving the report from Pahon Yothin Police Station, the witness informed and showed to the Director-General of the Criminal Court some photographs and two CDs with video recordings of this incident: one with a video recorded by Pahon Yothin Police Station and the other with another clip from the Criminal Court. Then the Director-General of the Criminal Court issued an order to call for an investigation into this case and initiate Contempt of Court charges.

The witness asserted that she had an obligation to inform the Director-General of the Criminal Court about this incident. After examining the inquiry report of Pahon Yothin Police Station, together with recordings inside the two CDs, she concluded that the accused caused a disturbance for the Court. She is directly responsible for taking care of this matter; therefore, she reported to the Director-General about what happened. She also noted she pressed Contempt of Court charges against six people involved in this rally. The examination hearings for some of the accused have been postponed. At the time, none of the hearings for Contempt of Court cases linked to the demonstration on that day has finished.

In response to the defense’s cross-examination, the witness acknowledged that the video recordings showed that the accused remained outside the Court’s premise while delivering the speech because an iron fence was guarding the venue. However, she argued that he was standing next to the iron fence near the Court’s pillars without walking up the staircase. Furthermore, according to the video recordings inside the CDs and the police’s inquiry report, the accused used vulgar language in his speech and stood with a group of around 300 protestors. Furthermore, even if the bail requests were not considered in trial on that day, the Court was administering other trials at the time of the rally.

The witness admitted to the defense lawyer that the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration came to the Court to submit its letter with a list of signatures to request the Court to grant bail for Parit and Panussaya. She also heard news reports about Parit’s symptoms that his stomach began to digest his body tissue due to his decision to go on hunger strike to call for the Court to grant bail for pro-democracy activists. However, she said she did not know whether the reports were accurate.

When the lawyer asked of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration’s letter to the Court, which states that Parit might pass away if the Court continues to deny bail, the witness responded that she had not seen the letter. She further remarked that she did not know what the letter said because the Court did not send any representative to accept the letter. Later, the lawyer showed her the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration’s letter of “royal injustice” and a list of signatures to ask her if it was the document that Ms. Benja was throwing or not. Again, the witness said she did not know because the documents were not attached in the inquiry report, and she was not present at the incident.

The defense lawyer asked whether it was true that Parit’s mother went up to the fence and was told by court officials that she had to tell other protestors to leave the Court’s front area. Otherwise, the Court would not read its verdict. The witness said she was unsure whether the court officials received an order to do so because she did not speak with the Director-General about this matter. The lawyer followed up, asking whether Parit’s mother was requested to negotiate with the protestors. The witness said the authorities made such a request because of the disorder that took place at the time.

On the evening of that day, the witness added that she was not in the court area because she was working from home. Therefore, she did not know that there was any turmoil. However, there are video recordings in the CDs that could confirm that. When she arrived at the Court at 4:00 pm, the situation in front of the Court had de-escalated and become calm. The protestors were only waiting to hear whether the Court would grant bail. Meanwhile, some were still using the amplifier to deliver speeches outside the fenced area of the Court. Thus, she asked Parit’s mother to negotiate with them. According to her, once Parit’s mother did so, these protestors stopped their activity, and the peace was restored.

The witness informed the defense lawyer she did not notice whether Shinnawat was outside the fence when she arrived at the Court. She was doing work at her desk and did not walk to the front area of the Court. Therefore, she could not see what was going on in the rally. However, she saw his speech from the videos taken by Pahon Yothin Police Station and the Criminal Court.

The lawyer asked why the witness charge him in two separate cases with Contempt of Court and insulting the court for the same action. As the director of the criminal court’s office, the witness said that she has no power to initiate a Contempt of Court charge. Her only responsibility was to report to the Director-General. It was the Director-General’s decision to order the Court to press this charge.

Upon examining case documents, the lawyer shared that the defense found that Pahon Yothin Police Station submitted its inquiry report to the Office of the Court of Justice. Therefore, the witness was asked whether the police submitted the report with the intention to prosecute those involved in the incident with Contempt of Court. The witness admitted that the Deputy Superintendent of Pahon Yothin Police Station submitted an inquiry report to the Office of the Court of Justice. However, the witness said she was unsure whether the Office of the Court of Justice had previously filed a Contempt of Court charge to Pahon Yothin Police Station or not because it was not within her realm of responsibility.

Witness No. 2: Shinnawat Chankrajang (The accused)

Before the accused begin testifying, the defense lawyer requested the Court to examine two witnesses, including Shinnawat (the accused) and Sureerat Chiwarak, Parit’s mother. Nonetheless, the Court denied the request and asserted that it only wanted to examine Witness No. 2 about the facts of what happened on that day. The Court only wanted to assess whether there was a disturbance of peace and report back to the Director-General, who would decide whether the defendant was guilty. The Court has no actual authority to rule on this case.

The Court asked Shinnawat if he was the person captured on camera in the videos on the CD and if he delivered a speech on that day. If so, the Court also wanted to know why he took those actions. Shinnawat admitted that he was in the incident, and the recordings were real. However, what appears in the videos on the CD does not capture the entire event. They lacked many factual elements that could have explained how the event unfolded. Before the witness began using vulgar language to curse at the Court, several incidents stirred the frustrations and anger of the protestors. Still, they were missing from the videos.

The witness further contended that the Court should have sent a representative to come down from the office and accept the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration’s letter. That hypothetical decision could have prevented the crowd from using insults against the Court or engaging in disturbance of the peace. He claimed that he used vulgar language because he did not want anyone to weaponize the Court. He would like the Court to uphold its gracious independence. When the witness spoke of the Court, he would often say that the Court need not take his side. The Court only should serve justice and carry out the legal proceedings properly.

When the witness was standing with other protestors on that day, they remained outside the Court and did not break into the fenced area. The amplifier used on that day was a small, portable one. Their size was not big. The witness did not know that it was prohibited to deliver political speeches and stage an assembly outside the Criminal Court. Therefore, he did not anticipate that his speech delivery outside the court building would constitute Contempt of Court.

He continued explaining that he got angry because he saw Judge Chanatip Muanpawong walked down to the ground floor of the Criminal Court. The judge also got into arguments with the protestors, thus escalating tension and leading to turmoil during the demonstration. The lack of clarity on whether the three activists would receive bail led to even greater disorder.

Judge Chanatip had an infamous record of denying bail requests and arguing with protestors. Therefore, the witness viewed his appearance as an attempt to escalate the situation and disturb the peaceful demonstration. The witness said he yelled out, “Murderer Court” because he saw a recent news report about Parit’s health conditions before attending the rally. Reportedly, Parit had fallen sick because of his hunger strike that caused his stomach to digest his own body tissue, leading to rectal bleeding. There were also news reports about the spread of COVID-19 in prison. The witness was concerned that if Parit did not receive bail, he might die in prison.

The witness asked the Court to examine the video clips thoroughly, and the Court would realize that his speech was well-intended. He insisted that he did not want the Court to receive more negative criticisms.

The witness answered the lawyer that he arrived at the Court at around 1:30 pm. At that time, the Court’s gate on the Ratchada Road side did not have any fence, and the authorities did not block anyone from entering the building. Around 100 people were waiting inside the Court, not 300 people as claimed by the accuser during her testimony. When he arrived at the Criminal Court, some protestors were already using the amplifier. He did not know to whom it belonged.

The witness spoke about the causes of the turmoil during the demonstration. He told the defense lawyer the protestors were not simply angered by Chanatip’s presence in front of the Criminal Court. There was another incident taking place simultaneously. At around 2:00 or 3:00 pm, a court official approached and told the protestors that the Court would not deliver its ruling if they did not leave the area. This order angered the crowd deeply.

Normally, the Court would send a representative to accept any petition letters from external parties. Thus, the defense lawyer asked the witness whether it was true that no one agreed to receive the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration’s letter. The witness said that he heard that a representative would come down from their office to receive an external letter to the Court in other cases. However, this time, nobody agreed to do so.

In response to the lawyer’s question about the charge of insulting the Court from the same incident, the witness said that this case remains in the remand stage, and he has denied all charges.

Lastly, the witness said that he knew Parit’s mother and saw her exiting the Criminal Court on the evening of that day. When the crowd got smaller, she told the protestors to leave the area in front of the Court, move outside the Court’s, and return home. The protestors agreed to follow the request from Parit’s mother.

At 12:30 pm, the Court finished examining both witnesses and scheduled for delivering the verdict at 2:00 pm.

Court sentenced the defendant to four months’ imprisonment without any suspension, stating that his references to the Court were vulgar and showed defiance of the law

At around 2:20 pm, at Trial Room No. 805, Shinnawat was waiting to hear the Court’s verdict. Somyot Pruksakasemsuk also observed the trial in that afternoon because he was also one of the defendants charged with Contempt of Court from the same demonstration. Therefore, he would like to know how the procedures were. The trial room officials requested all observers to sit apart from one another as part of the Court’s social distancing measures.

Later, at 2:40 pm, the Court delivered its ruling, which indicated that the defendant used vulgar language to express contempt against the Court, and his actions showed defiance of the law. Therefore, the Court found him guilty of Sections 30 – 33 of the Criminal Procedure Code and sentenced him to four months’ imprisonment without any suspension.

The Court asked the Department of Corrections to immediately prepare to detain the defendant before bringing him to Trial Room No. 703 to consider whether to revoke his bail for another case.

Court decided not to revoke the defendant’s bail for the “19 September: Return Power to the People Demonstration” case, citing no impact from his conviction on the factual elements of the other case. However, a bail condition was added to prohibit him from participating in activities causing public disorder

At Trial Room No. 703, the Court only permitted Shinnawat’s family members, including his wife and toddler son, lawyer, and other observers, to attend the trial. Inside the room, there were four court police officers and one security guard. The Court began the trial at 3:23 pm. The lawyer started by informing the Court that the defense will appeal the Court’s decision to sentence Shinnawat to four months’ imprisonment for Contempt of Court, mainly because the defendant is facing double jeopardy from another case in which he was charged with insulting the Court. Moreover, the defendant said that he did not violate any bail conditions for the “19 September: Return Power to the People Demonstration” case because he had already paid the surety of 35,000 THB without agreeing to any additional requirements. This case also has nothing to do with the Contempt of Court case.

Later, the Court decided not to revoke Shinnawat’s bail for the 19 September 2021 case. It assessed that even though the defendant was found guilty of Contempt of Court, the decision to revoke bail must follow the rationales laid out in Section 108/1 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Notably, the defendant’s commission of Contempt of Court is not related to the judicial proceedings in the other case, therefore not impeding its trial. The offenses in both cases are also different, so it could be determined that the defendant may cause another danger of a similar nature. For these reasons, the Court decided not to revoke his bail.

The Court maintained its decision to allow for Shinnawat’s provisional release for the “19 September: Return Power to the People Demonstration” case. However, it added one condition prohibiting him from participating in any rallies that may cause public disorder.

For the Contempt of Court case, the defense lawyer filed for bail while the case remains pending appeal. Shortly after, at 4:00 pm, the Court granted bail for him upon providing the surety of 10,000 THB from the Ratsadonprasong Fund.

This is Shinnawat’s second Contempt of Court case. Previously, on 31 May 2021, the Court sentenced him and “Ford Red Path” Anurak Jentawanich to 15 days’ imprisonment and a 500-THB fine per person. Nonetheless, their sentences were suspended. In this case, their alleged violations occurred when they took photos of the courtroom while waiting for the judge to begin the indictment trial of the “19 September: Return Power to the People Demonstration” case on 8 March 2021.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) ‘s documentation record, from the beginning of the Free Youth Group’s demonstration to May 2021, at least 13 people have been charged with Contempt of Court in 13 cases, and at least 20 people with insulting the Court in three cases. Among these cases, seven Contempt of Court cases stemmed from the demonstrations on 29 and 30 April 2021, which called for the right to bail for Ratsadon leaders held in pre-trial detention. Today, the Court finished the examination and delivered its ruling for only one case against Shinnawat.