The hashtag #19SeptReturnPowerToThePeople was widely used to refer to the two-day demonstration held by “Ratsadon Group” at the Royal Plaza and Thammasat University from 19 to 20 September 2020. This rally is well-known for several of its distinctive features. It is estimated that around 200,000 protestors attended the event; many camped out at the Royal Garden and Thammasat University. The organizers had also set up a large stage where numerous people could go up and take turns delivering speeches and leading political activities throughout the night.
Furthermore, in the early morning of 20 September, there was a ceremony to install a plaque of “2020 People’s Party” on the concrete floor of the Royal Garden. Two student protest leaders- Parit Chiwarak and Panussaya Sithijirawattanakul- took turns reading the Declaration of the 2020 People’s Party. The Declaration addressed the monarchy’s over-expansion of its power and changing roles and reiterated the student movement’s 10 core proposals on reforming the monarchy to ensure that the royal institution can co-exist with Thailand’s contemporary democratic regime.
After the public reading of the Declaration, the organizers announced that they would revoke their initial plan to march towards the Government House to call for the resignation of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha. Instead, they decided to submit a letter on their 3 demands, along with the aforementioned 10 proposals on monarchical reforms, to the President of the Privy Council at the Privy Council Chambers located inside Saranrom Royal Garden, which is not far from the Royal Plaza. They hoped to request the privy councilors who serve as the King’s advisors to inform the King of the Thai people’s will.
Following this demonstration, a total of 22 people has been charged for their participation in this activity. The public prosecutor indicted 4 of them on 9 February 2021 and the remaining 18 on 8 March 2021. Among all the defendants, 7 face “lèse-majesté” charges under Article 112 of the Criminal Code; none of them were granted bail.
This case marked the first indictment under Article 112 since the Free Youth Group’s first demonstration to call for democratic changes in Thailand on 18 July 2020. Various developments linked to this case raised serious questions regarding the Thai judiciary system. Below are the summaries and analyses of such developments by Thai Lawyers of Human Rights (TLHR).
11. Delayed trial caused 3 defendants to contract COVID-19 from the prison despite stringent measures and restrictions on visitation for family members
In late April 2021, several media outlets reported about the spread of COVID-19 in Bangkok Remand Prison, after the defense lawyers visited Chukiat in prison and received information that he had a fever. Later, he got tested and found that he contracted COVID-19 on 24 April 2021. The virus contraction occurred despite the prison’s imposition of measures to prohibit family members from visiting the detainees for several months and implement other stringent restrictions which supposedly aimed to protect the detainees from COVID-19.
Notwithstanding this concerning development, the Court, on 29 April 2021, insisted on denying bail for the 4 remaining defendants indicted for lese majeste in this case and those in other cases, including Chukiat, Chai-amorn, and Parinya “Port” Cheewinkulpatom. The Court went ahead with this decision, even though the activists mentioned in their bail requests explicitly that they were facing the risks of contracting COVID-19 due to the situation in prison. The Court was further requested to grant Chukiat an access to appropriate and effective medical care.
Previously, the Court of Justice issued a protocol for the administration of legal cases during the situation of COVID-19 in April 2021. One provision in the protocol prescribes that Courts shall follow the President of the Supreme Court’s recommendation. Under this rule, lower courts hold the margin of discretion to authorize provisional releases of the accused or defendants to reduce overcrowding in prisons, which could lead to the spread of COVID-19. However, the courts continued to use its power to deny bail for political detainees without considering the worrisome situation of the spread of the pandemic that threatens the detainees’ lives.
Eventually, Anon and Panupong contracted COVID-19 in prison. It was also found that Panussaya was tested positive 5 days after her release. The Department of Corrections issued a statement claiming that Panussaya did not contract COVID-19 from prison because they had put her in quarantine in the reception center for new detainees until 5 May 2021 before releasing her on 6 May 2021. The statement further argued that no other detainees in this zone were tested positive. However, Panussaya presented counter-information by saying that she was only in quarantine in the said area until 26 April 2021. Then she was transferred to her prison wing and could mingle and do activities with other prisoners.
After Anon was tested positive for COVID-19, bail applications were filed for other activists detained in this case and other cases to prevent further transmission of COVID-19 due to the prison congestion. However, the Court insisted on having a bail request hearing and schedule them with undue delay. In addition, the Court postponed Panupong’s hearing after he had already been summoned to the Court and was sitting in the trial room and waiting for the hearing. The postponement was justified by citing that Panupong’s latest COVID-19 test results dated back for too long. Finally, Panupong and almost all the other political detainees contracted COVID-19 before receiving bail.
When the Court postponed its bail request hearings, it cited the letter of the Office of the Court of Justice dated 12 May 2021, which states that Bangkok Remand Prison had previously submitted a letter “requesting collaboration from the Court to stop summoning defendants or accused persons to court and begin conducting trials via video conference from 28 April to 27 May 2021 to curb the spread of COVID-19 in designated prison areas.” Nonetheless, the lawyers found that Bangkok Remand Prison’s letter only requested that the Court suspend the practice of summoning the detainees to the Court for one month. Meanwhile, the Office of the Court of Justice claimed that Bangkok Remand Prison also requested for the Court to refrain from conducting trials via video conference too.
12. Court granted bail for Parit after 10 failed requests within 3 months, with the condition barring him from “any involvement in activities tarnishing the monarchy’s reputation.” The total amount of surety in this case accounted for almost 1.5 million THB.
During the indictment hearing on 8 February 2021, 15 defendants who do not face lese majeste charges were granted bail as MPs from Move Forward Party and academics used their positions as the surety. The Court determined the estimated value of their individual surety at 35,000 THB per person. Nonetheless, Chai-amorn was an exception as he was denied bail due to the Article 112 charge he is facing in a separate case.
From April to June 2021, the 7 defendants charged with lese majeste and Chai-amorn, who only faces a sedition charge, began to receive bail authorizations from the Court. To obtain bail, the defendants had to attend a bail request hearing in Court and re-appoint a lawyer to represent them after they had previously released the lawyers of their duties. They also had to agree to the condition that they would not engage in any activities tarnishing the monarchy’s reputation and appoint a supervisor who could ensure their compliance with such a condition. The Court also created another bail condition that they “shall not carry out activities with characteristics similar to their alleged offenses which could tarnish the monarchy’s reputation and shall not travel overseas.” For Panussaya, Parit, Chai-amorn, Anon, and Panupong, the Court also imposed one more condition that they “shall not engage in activities that could cause public disorder.”
The seven defendants also had to pay the surety of 200,000 THB per person, whereas Chai-amorn had to pay 50,000 THB. The total amount of sureties spent in this case accounted for 1,450,000 THB. This budget was drawn from the Ratsadonprasong Fund, a crowdfunding project with monetary contributions from pro-democracy citizens.
Before receiving bail, the lawyers had to file bail applications several times. The case of Parit took 10 times during 3 months of his detention. Meanwhile, it took 8 times for Anon, 7 times for Somyos, 6 times for Patiwat, Panussaya, and Panupong, and 5 times for Jatupat and Chai-amorn. Anon’s detention was the most prolonged, lasting for a period of 113 days or almost four months. Pai’s detention was the shortest among the seven defendants, as he was held for 47 days or over one month and a half.
13. 13 cases of contempt of court, 3 cases of insulting the court
It is evident that the Court has been applying stringent measures only to the defendants and relevant parties in this case. This observation became even clearer as the Court continuously denied \the defendants’ rights to bail while awaiting trial. Such unfairness led to protests, non-violent resistance, and other exercises of freedom of expression to call for “justice” from the justice system. However, judiciary authorities did not, in turn, review the performance of their duties and powers. Instead, they used the law as a weapon of reprisal to silence criticisms by pressing charges of contempt of court in 13 cases. Furthermore, they also pressed additional charges of insulting the Court, which could constitute double jeopardy, in 3 cases. In total, 27 people are charged under the offenses in this group, including 8 defendants in this case, 1 defense lawyer, and many activists.
1) 2 cases stemming from taking photos in the trial room during the indictment for the second group of 18 defendants and holding an activity to give moral support to the activists
Attapon “Kru Yai” Buapat, Shinnawat “Bright” Chankrajang, and Anurak “Ford” were accused of taking photos in the courtroom on 8 March 2021 while waiting for the judge to begin the indictment trial. Currently, the Court had finished examining Shinnawat and Anurak. During the trial, both of them admitted that they did so because they did not know that it was prohibited. Therefore, the Court sentenced them to 15 days’ imprisonment and a 500-THB fine per person. Nonetheless, their sentences were suspended for one year. Meanwhile, the Court temporarily dismissed the trial for Attapon because the defendant was undergoing quarantine and could not attend the court session on the initially scheduled date.
In another case, Nawapol “Dino” Ton-ngam and Lerdsak Kamkongsak were accused of committing Contempt of Court while organizing an activity in front of the Criminal Court to give moral support to Jatupat, Panupong, and other defendants in the same case. During that activity, the activists used an amplifier and faced it towards the Court. The trial has been scheduled for 15 June 2021.
2) Parit sentenced to 15 days in prison in 1 case for standing in Court to challenge the justice system
Parit was accused of Contempt of Court on 15 March 2021 when he stood up on a bench in the courtroom to read aloud his statement and declared that he would go on hunger strike until he receives bail. That was his 35th day of detention. During the examination hearing, Parit admitted that he conducted himself impolitely yet insisted that he only wanted to call for justice without any intention to cause disturbance to the peace in Court. The Court handed him one month imprisonment but reduced the sentence by half because he pleaded guilty and was still a student. Therefore, the Court shortened the sentence to 15 days in prison. He was held at the Pathum Thani Provincial Central Probation Centre. The Court did not allow anyone to make copies of this case’s documents, claiming that they contain confidential information.
3) 2 cases stemming from a conflict during the evidence examination hearing on 8 April; both the defendant and defense lawyer charged
Lawyer Ratsada, one of the defense lawyers, was accused of using his hand to push Assistant Attorney-General during the evidence examination session on 8 April 2021 after the judge already left the room. On that day, the Court had imposed strict measures on the defendants, family members, and defense lawyers. Lawyer Ratsada apologized and admitted that he pushed Assistant Attorney-General because of the Assistant Public Prosecutor’s use of inappropriate language and the stress accumulated from his performance of duty as a lawyer for the entire day. The Court fined him 500 THB for his disorderly conduct in the Court’s premises.
In another case, Adisak Sombatkam, one of the defendants, was accused of using his hand to hit the back of a Department of Corrections official. The alleged violations took place during the trial on the same day. The Court held a hearing by inquiring two witnesses while still missing the official from the Department of Corrections. Adisak insisted that he had no intention to harm the official; he only wanted to touch the official’s shoulder to inform him that he was blocking his sight. He also stood ready to apologize to that official if he comes to the Court.
Nonetheless, TLHR has not received information about whether the Court had called for a hearing to investigate the harassment against a defense lawyer by a Department of Corrections official during the trial on 29 March 2021. Such an incident was mentioned in the lawyer’s petition to the Director-General of the Criminal Court.
4) 6 cases of Contempt of Court – 1 case of insulting the Court stemming from the demonstration at the Criminal Court’s staircase to submit the letter of “royal injustice” and demand the release of detainees on 29 April
Six activists from the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, Free Art Group, and Ratsadon’s Nonthaburi Chapter were accused of causing a disturbance in the Court’s premises by using an amplifier to criticize the Court, throw pamphlets on the floor, and yell at court officials on 29 April 2021. The defendants, in this case, included Benja Apan, Pattarapong Noipang, Natchanon Pairoj, Pisitkul “Kra-Dueng” Kuantalaeng, Elia Fofi, and Shinnawat “Bright” Chankrajang.
On that day, the defense lawyers filed bail applications for the seven defendants facing lese majeste charges in the #19SeptReturnPowerToThePeople case. Therefore, the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration held an activity to submit the letter of “royal injustice” to the Director-General of the Criminal Court to call for upholding all political detainees’ right to bail. However, no judge agreed to come down to take the letter. Therefore, the activists threw pamphlets and letters with more than 12,000 signatures on the Criminal Court’s floor in front of the staircase. Benja said at one point, “Please look at my face. My friend has been on a hunger strike for more than 40 days. Our friends are dying. Do you have any sense of humanity left inside of you? Justice is something that we must have, not something you must beg for.”
Due to this incident, the Court filed six charges of Contempt of Court and conducted an individual hearing for each defendant during June and July 2021. The hearings for Shinnawat and Pisitkul had finished. In the case of Shinnawat, the Court sentenced him to 4 months imprisonment without suspension, indicating that the defendant used vulgar language to express contempt against the Court, and his actions showed defiance of the law. This decision came after Shinnawat attempted to inform the Court that he acted in that manner because the Court would not send a representative to accept their petition letter. The outcome of the remaining 5 cases remains to be seen; 3 of the defendants are still students. For the case of Pisitkul, the Court has scheduled the verdict hearing for 25 June 2021.
Moreover, the 6 activists also received a separate arrest warrant from the Criminal Court under six charges, including insulting the Court among other charges, from the same incident. Shinnawat, Pisitkul, and Elia were arrested by the police officers at their homes, whereas the three students surrendered themselves to the authorities. The Court granted all of them bail with the surety of 100,000 THB per person.
The charge of “insulting the Court” contains a higher penalty than “Contempt of Court.” The punishment could range from 1 to 7 years imprisonment or a fine ranging from 20,000 to 140,000 THB. While listed in the Civil Procedure Code, the contempt of court charge imposes a criminal sentence on those found guilty. The penalty is up to six months imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 500 THB. In this case, it could be regarded that the defendants are subject to double jeopardy as they are facing 2 charges from the same actions, which is strongly unfair for them.
5) 1 case of Contempt of Court and one of insulting the Court for yelling “Release our friend” at the parking lot of the Criminal Court on 30 April
Benja and Natchanon were accused of Contempt of Court in another case for using a loudspeaker to yell “Release our friend” near the parking lot in front of the Krungthai Bank, which is located inside the Criminal Court. Also, they delivered speeches at the entrance gate of the Criminal Court on 30 April 2021 on the same day when the bail applications for Parit and Panussaya were filed to give Parit an opportunity to access medical treatment and recover from his health condition in a hospital. Parit’s mother, on that day, shaved her head to call for her son’s right to bail. In this case, the Court scheduled the hearing for 16 June 2021. However, the lawyer requested a postponement of the hearing on the appointment date because both activists just received information about their charges. Therefore, the new date for the hearing has been moved to 13 August 2021.
Furthermore, both activists and Somyos, who has just been released, were charged with insulting the Court with a warrant issued by the Criminal Court for participating in an activity on the same day. All three reported to the authorities to acknowledge the charge and used a surety of 80,000 – 100,000 THB per person to receive bail.
6) One case of Contempt of Court and the other of insulting the Court for the demonstration with hurling paint, tomatoes, and eggs on the Criminal Court’s exterior on 2 May
The Court issued arrest warrants for 13 protestors, including students, under 5 charges, including insulting the Court among other charges, due to their participation in the activity held by the #REDEM Group in front of the Criminal Court on 2 May 2021 as the Court refused to grant bail for political detainees. The 13 defendants, in this case, surrendered themselves to the authorities and paid the surety of 40,000 THB per person. The total amount accounted for 520,000 THB. In addition, the Court required 6 of them to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet for 30 days.
Later, 5 out of the 13 defendants found out that they were charged with Contempt of Court, thus facing double jeopardy in a separate case. Their hearing has been scheduled for 1 July 2021.
14. In at least 3 media interviews, the Justice Minister vowed to prosecute administrators of the Facebook pages of Anon and Parit for publishing posts while both activists were in prison and damaging the Department of Corrections’ reputation
On 13 February 2021, Thanakrit Jitareerat, Secretary to the Minister of Justice, gave a media interview regarding Parit’s Facebook page, which posted messages from the activist and a photo of his handwritten letter. The post was made on 11 February 2021, although Parit had been detained since 9 February 2021. According to Thanakrit, Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsutin tasked the Department of Corrections to set up a committee to investigate this matter and found that the letter was written by Parit when he was in the courtroom. Furthermore, the Committee revealed that communication devices were not allowed inside Bangkok Remand Prison. Therefore, it could be speculated that the posts were made outside the prison. The Secretary said that he had filed a complaint with the Rom Klao Police Station, requesting the police to prosecute the Facebook user who published this post. The charge alleged that this post damaged the reputation of the Department of Corrections and the Minister of Justice. He also filed complaints against other accusatorial Facebook posts that similarly tarnished the reputation of the Minister of Justice and Director-General of the Department of Corrections, accusing that such posts helped Parit encourage the mass uprising.
On 25 February 2021, the Secretary to the Minister of Justice, along with representatives from the Department of Corrections’ Legal Affairs Division, filed a charge with Pol. Lt. Gen. Anan Nanasombat, Chief of the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD), concerning the Facebook pages of Parit and Anon. It was alleged that these pages published inappropriate messages. The reports stated that the Secretary received an order from Minister Somsak to find out who was behind these posts. Furthermore, the Department of Corrections’ Director-General also established an investigative committee that subsequently made an inquiry to Parit about whether this Facebook page truly belonged to him and who else is authorized to administer the page. The Committee’s priority was to find out who posted these messages.
On 26 March 2021, Wallop Nakbua, Deputy Permanent-Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, announced the progress of investigating the post published on 16 March 2021 on Anon’s Facebook page. The post contains Anon’s letter that raises concerns about the prison’s mismanagement of COVID-19 testing that triggered Anon’s fear for his life. The official investigation demonstrated different narratives around this incident and insisted that prison officials correctly followed the protocol to test detainees for COVID-19. However, the detainees refused to get tested for the virus. Therefore, they were subject to isolation per the prison’s protocol. The authorities speculated that Anon wrote this letter while he was in a courtroom and asked someone else to post it. Concerned that this post could jeopardize the Department of Corrections’ reputation, the Department had filed a charge with the TCSD to carry out an investigation and prosecute the person who published the post.
15. Police requested to revoke bail for 5 defendants only a few days after Somyos and Parit was released from prison
Up until the present, inquiry officers from Chana Songkram Police Station have filed a request for the Court to revoke bail authorizations for a total of 5 defendants in this case. Those defendants included Somyos, who was released on 23 April 2021, and Shinnawat, Natchanon, and Pattarapong. The police authorities claimed that these four violated their bail conditions by re-offending. The four have been accused of “contempt of court” and “insulting the court” for staging a protest in front of the Criminal Court to demand the release of detainees in this case and other political cases from 29 to 30 April 2021.
Meanwhile, Parit’s supervisors, including his mother, father, and professor, were summoned by a court warrant dated 20 May 2021. The summons came after Sontiya Sawaddee petitioned the Court to revoke Parit’s bail authorization, claiming that he might have violated the Court’s bail condition by posting on Facebook the “First Message of Freedom” after he was granted provisional release on 11 May 2021.
Nonetheless, the Court did not revoke the bail of Shinnawat and Parit after conducting a hearing on their supervisors. In Shinnawat’s case, the Court ruled that the defendant committed Contempt of Court against a different court, therefore not impeding its trial. It also could not be determined that the defendant may cause another danger of a similar nature. For these reasons, the Court decided not to revoke his bail. However, it added one bail condition prohibiting him from participating in any rallies that might cause public disorder. In Parit’s case, the Court merely wanted to ensure that his supervisors understand his bail conditions clearly and strictly make sure that he complies with them.
For the cases of Somyos, Natchanon, and Pattarapong, the Court has scheduled to conduct a hearing for considering the revocation of their bail authorizations on 22 June 2021.
16. Participants of the “Standing-Against-Detention” protest to call for “releasing our friends” face a maximum of four charges per person.
During the detention of Ratsadon leaders, protestors organized several activities to call for the detainees’ right to bail. The “Resistant Citizens” Group started the “Standing-Against-Detention” protest in Bangkok, asking participants to stand in silent resistance against the injustice. Initially, the protestors would stand silently for 112 minutes, but it was later changed to 1 hour and 12 minutes. The quiet protest activity began in front of the Bangkok Criminal Court. It later spread to other places, such as in front of the prisons, Criminal Court, Democracy Monument, and Government House. Throughout April 2021, similar activities were held in at least 13 provinces. The silent protests took place consecutively for 71 days before the Resistant Citizens announced the end of their activity on 2 June 2021 after Anon and Panupong were granted bail on 1 June 2021.
At least 13 people who participated in this series of silent protests have been charged for alleged violations of the Emergency Decree in four cases. Four activists, including Pansak Sritep, Paisan Chanpan, Mattana Ijjima, and Baramee Chairat, face four charges. Meanwhile, other protestors face 1 to 3 charges. Among the 13 people is the mother of Panussaya “Rung” Sitthijirawattanakul. Panussaya’s mother has been charged for her participation in the “Standing-Against-Detention” protest on 28 April 2021.
Moreover, various activist groups organized “Standing-Against-Detention” activities in front of the Ratchada Criminal Court and Supreme Court. Some of these activities involved camping outside the venues and going on hunger strikes to call for the release of detained political activists. In the case of Mongkol “Bas” Thirakod, the defendant traveled from Chiang Rai Province to go on a hunger strike for 3 days. Then he was arrested by the police officers who used arrest warrants from Chiang Rai to charge him under Article 112 for up to 25 of his Facebook posts. They subsequently took him back to Chiang Rai for proceeding to the next step in prosecuting him.
After Mongkol was arrested, Samana Dao Din, a former Santi Asok monk, went on a hunger strike. The strike lasted 8 days before he was arrested and charged on two counts for wrongfully dressing as a Buddhist monk while participating in the activities in front of the Criminal Court and on one count while acknowledging his charges at Samran Rat Police Station. Meanwhile, Monk Somporn was ousted from his temple in Lopburi Province after visiting Samana Dao Din.
Five people who participated in the “Standing-Against-Detention” activity also face charges under the Act on the Maintenance of the Cleanliness and Orderliness of the Country (“Cleanliness Act”) for allegedly blocking a public pathway because they were standing on the pavement in front of the Criminal Court in five cases. iLaw reported that, during 25 and 28 April 2021, Pahon Yothin Police Station had fined each protestor 200 THB per person under this Act almost every night. They would be released upon paying the fine. The authorities would impose fines on around 2 to 4 people per night. Later, on 11 May 2021, this practice of imposing monetary penalties under this law resumed. The police officers claimed that some complainants urged the authorities to carry out an investigation and enforce the law. After finishing the said investigation, they took Worrawan “Aunty Pao” Sae-Ang to Pahon Yothin Police Station and fined her.
A similar pattern of law enforcement unfolded during an activity in front of the Supreme Court on 26 April 2021. The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration organized their “Standing-Against-Detention” activity there on that day to call for the detainees’ right to bail. Later, on 27 April 2021, police officers from Chana Songkram Police Station took three activists to the station and fined them 200 THB per person under the Cleanliness Act before releasing them and returning them to their activity area.
The trial proceedings for the #19SeptReturnPowerToThePeople case have now reached the phase of witness examination, which will continue to take place from May to December 2021. Nevertheless, court appointments in May and June have all been postponed due to the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Court had scheduled a preliminary session to determine the date for the next witness examination hearing on 22 June 2021.
Find out all the information concerning this case at >> Protestors in #19SeptReturnPowerToThePeople case face charges under Articles 112, 116, and 215