Although the number of Covid-19 infection cases has somewhat decreased in October, the crisis is far from end with the daily infection hovering around 8,000 – 10,000. Meanwhile, the government has relaxed the regulations by lifting the curfew in Bangkok and high-risk provinces after the end of the month onwards, as well as preparing for the opening up of the country’s tourism through the sandbox program in various provinces for infection-free tourists. Nevertheless, the emergency situation still takes effect and another Announcement of the Chief Official Responsible for Solving the State of Emergency in Relation to Security Issues (Chief of Defence Forces) was issued on 28 October 2021 prohibiting assemblies and activities causing Covid-19 transmission. This thus has prolonged the control measures targeting gatherings and protests.
According to the TLHR statistics, 1,636 people in 896 cases have faced lawsuits for their political participation and expression since the “Free Youth” rally on 18 July 2020 until the end of October 2021. Among them were 258 youths of under 18 years old, 352 women, and 43 members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Compared to the figures as of the end of September 2021, this month saw an increase of 178 individuals and 102 cases (only counting those who had not been charged before), including 35 youths.
Statistical numbers of people prosecuted under charges can be divided to charges, as follows;
- “Lèse-majesté” or the Section 112 of the Penal Code: at least 154 people in 159 cases
- “Sedition” in the Section 116 of the Penal Code: at least 112 people in 35 cases
- “Being assembled together do an act of violence to cause a breach of the peace” in the Section 215 of the Penal Code: at least 549 people in 175 cases
- Violation of the Emergency Decree: at least 1,337 people in 553 cases, which are divided into 24 cases during the declaration of a serious emergency situation in Bangkok and 529 cases involving the breaching of the Covid-19-related provisions.
- Public Assembly Act of 2015: at least 107 people in 73 cases
- Computer Crime Act: at least 97 people in 114 cases.
Political cases reach near 900 in just over a year. Arrests of ThaluGas protesters continue. Torture of detainees by authorities was reported
The beginning of October saw a continuation of Talu Gas protest series in Din Daeng area that had started since August before decreasing in extent in the second half of the month. Nevertheless, arrests were reported throughout the month with at least 155 people affected, including 34 youths and 12 children under 15 years old.
Especially on 6 – 7 October 2021, authorities sealed and conducted an intensive search of the Din Daeng Flat, which led a large number of protesters as well as unrelated people to be detained temporarily. The police prohibited lawyers to meet the detainees for more than 12 hours before pressing charges against 68.
At the end of October, arrests were also made on participants of the activity in front of the Din Daeng Police Station to mourn “Warit”, a 15-year-old youth who was shot dead in front of the station. 8 people were arrested, 2 of whom reported that they had been tortured and physically abused by the officers during their detention as well.
Meanwhile, despite a decreased frequency in the Din Daeng protests, accusation of citizens is still ongoing. Police from the Din Daeng Police Station have continued to pursue and arrest people accused of various offences, such as setting fire to properties, throwing objects, or destroying traffic booths, in the past two months. Some people detained were denied bail after their detention request was approved by the court. At a result, at least 16 related to activities in Din Daeng and nearby areas were put behind bars, including one youth under 18 years old.
Moreover, police have been regularly issuing warrants for people who participated in protests peacefully or simply observed the situation in Din Daeng area summoning them to hear charges under the Emergency Decree. Some of them were involved in as many as 10 cases, as they happened to be in the area almost every day.
In total, the TLHR has found that at least 498 people were arrested due to protests at Din Daeng and nearby areas since 7 August, including at least 167 cases that have resulted in lawsuits.
Section 112 cases have increased by at least 14. Five activists were denied bail.
In October, at least 9 people in 14 cases have faced the so-called “royal defamation” charge under Section 112 of the Penal Code. As a result, a total of 154 people in 159 cases have been accused, including 12 youths and 5 people who were detained without the right to bail.
The public prosecutors indicted two Section 112 cases involving “Sai Nam”, a 17-year-old youth who wore a crop top in a fashion show activity and had a text painted on the body on 29 October 2020 on Silom Road, and glued papers and sprayed paints on the portrait of King Rama X at the protest on 18 July 2021. He became the second young person whose case containing this charge reached the court.
This month also witnessed another prominent case. Benja Apan, student and activist from Thammasat University, was arrested on 7 October 2021 for reading a statement in front of the Sino-Thai Tower during the car mob activity on 10 August 2021. The Court issued an arrest warrant, even though she had not received a summon warrant first. Benja was detained without bail ever since.
Furthermore, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was charged with royal defamation law for the second time. In this case, Tossapon Pengsom, member of the Assisting Committee to the Ministers for the Prime Minister, had filed a complaint at the Phahonyothin Police Station against Thanathorn’s testimony in the case where he opposed the censoring of the Facebook livestream criticizing the Covid-19 vaccination policy. In case of Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak, TCSD police officers went to the prison where he was staying and also charged him with this law in a new case for posting pictures and texts on Facebook. As a result, Penguin now has 21 Section 112 cases, the highest number in Thai political history.
In parallel, the pro-monarchy movement continue to file complaints with this charge at remote locations against people who express their opinions online. Especially in Su-ngai Kolok District in Narathiwat Province, we have found that the police already pressed charge against people in six different cases, after a citizen had filed a complaint against a large number of people there. Last month, “Paradee” and “Waree” had to travel from Bangkok and Samut Prakan, respectively, to hear the charge. The police at the Su-ngai Kolok Police Station also tend to seek detention for all accused people from the court, even though they had reported themselves according to the warrant. This, in turn, required security deposit for bail application.
Moreover, there were also the cases of “Lakkana”, a merchant in Phuket, and “Wong”, a merchant from Ratchaburi, who were pressed charge by the TCSD in Bangkok, and of “Akkapon”, a freelance designer who had to travel from Bangkok to hear charge at the Klaeng Police Station in Rayong after a Burapha University lecturer had filed a complaint against him.
There were also the cases of two Burapha University students, for whom the police of Saensuk Police Station in Rayong issued arrest warrants for displaying banners protesting the government and the monarchy on the dormitory balcony, and of Chonlasit, an independent rubber tapper in Sisaket province, against whom a member of Volunteer Defense Corps in the same village filed a complaint at Khun Han Police Station for sharing a caricature drawing.
Thus, this trend reflects the nationwide extensive use of legal charges in provinces across the country, especially outside of Bangkok which sees an increase in cases.
A wide use of the Emergency Decree – Public Prosecutors indicted most cases with less check and balance
At the same time, the Emergency Decree continues to be used against political protesters, despite no reports of Covid-19 infection from any assemblies so far. In October, at least 166 people in at least 70 cases were additionally accused of the violation of the Announcement of the Emergency Situation. As a result, at least 1,337 people in 553 cases have already faced this charge since the announcement of the emergency situation in 2020 in total.
In the past few months alone, many cases emerged from the car mob activities to call for Prayuth’s resignation. Even though the participants did not leave their personal vehicle and were exposed to zero risk of Covid-19 infection, at least 246 people in 99 cases in at least 37 provinces in all regions have already been accused. Among this number were 86 cases that contain charges of the violation of the Emergency Decree.
Almost all protests in Bangkok and vicinity have led to summon warrants by the police. Many cases contain a large number of affected people: 6 accused from the #18July protest to commemorate 1 year of the “Free Youth” protest, 9 summoned after the #7August protest at the Democracy Monument, 9 accused from the activity demanding the right to bail for political detainees in front of the Thanyaburi Provincial Court on 11 September 2021, and 21 accused from the anti-Prayuth protest at the Nonthaburi Pier on 30 September.
Last month, the inquiry officer from Lumpini Police Station also travelled to a hospital in Samut Prakan province to press another charge against Nattawut Somboonsap, a 24-year-old activist who was being treated for Covid-19, there for joining a protest on 25 October 2020 at the Ratchaprasong Intersection. Although the lawyer had informed the officers about Nattawut’s infection, the officer insisted on seeing him at the hospital anyway. The officer brought along a lawyer from the Lawyers Council, but the accused refused and preferred a trusted lawyer instead. The officer therefore went ahead to inform the charge without the lawyer’s presence. On 18 October 2021, Chakrit Pengpan, a merchant at a market in Samut Sakhon province, was accused by a representative of Saksiam Chidchob, Minister of Transport, of defamation by advertisement at the Buriram Provincial Court as a result of a post questioning Saksiam’s connection to an entertainment venue that saw a Covid-19 infection cluster in April 2021. He has decided to change his mind to confess and asked the court for a lighter punishment. The Court thus passed a sentence with a fine of 5,000 Baht, commuted by half to 2,500 Baht due to confession. As far as the TLHR’s legal assistance is concerned, three other ordinary citizens in Buriram have experienced similar cases.
Meanwhile, public prosecutor ordered non-prosecution only 4 cases charged with the Emergency Decree related to political assembly. They cited the previous verdict of other courts, which are; political assembly did not occur in crowded place; did not cause public disorder; and did not prone to the spread of the virus.
However, public prosecutor tended to indict cases perpetually causing the defendant to fight for their rights. Also, throughout two years, interpretation of the regulation pursuant to the Emergency Decree is broaden after the spread of COVID-19.
It can be said that the role of public prosecutor in check and balance with the discretion of police officers is limited.
Authorities continue to harass activists during PM’s visits and due to political activities
In October, authorities continue to frequently harass activists and citizens due to political expression, especially during the prime minister’s visit in various provinces. In Ubon Ratchathani, at least 7 activists and citizens received house visits by both uniform and plain-clothed police officers or were requested a meeting to obtain information and warn against organizing political activities before and during Prayuth Chan-ocha’s official visit on 15 October 2021. The officers also went to monitor them around their houses. Later, when people organized a protest during Prayuth’s field visit displaying banners and throwing dog feed at the riot police who had set up a blockage, 4 citizens received a summon warrant to hear charges.
Similarly, after the “Ratsadon Khon Kaen” group had organized a protest during Prawit Wongsuwan’s field visit in Khon Kaen province leading to clashes with the police, two protesters were charged with obstructing or resisting officers and using force to harm others.
In Chaiyaphum, after the “Kana Ratsadon Chaiyaphum” had posted announcing the activity to commemorate the 14 October 1973 event at the Chao Pho Phaya Lae Monument, police officers visited at least 3 political activists in Chaiyaphum at their house. They also tried to regulate what issues were acceptable to address and what not.
Lastly, there was the case of “Bang” (real name undisclosed), a 22-year-old student from the Navamindradhiraj University who was accused of Section 112 for setting fire to the royal arch in Din Daeng. Ten police officers went to meet with his mother at their house trying to pressure her not to let her son be involved in politics and organize protests.