Since March 2018, the Ministry of Justice and Justice Courts have introduced the Electronic Monitoring (EM) device to track individuals in criminal and narcotics-related cases in lieu of a large security bail deposit. The aim was to improve the access to bail among economically-disadvantaged population in court proceedings.
In that year, seven TLHR clients in two cases: the Thai Federation case containing a sedition charge under Section 116 and involvement in an unlawful organization charge, and the Computer Crime Act case involving the sharing of posts from ‘I must have received 100 million from Thaksin’ Facebook Page, wrote a petition to the court asking to use the EM bracelet instead of paying security for bail, as they were unable to secure that sum.
From 2021 onwards, the TLHR found that courts have began to order the accused in political cases related to protests to wear EM bracelets. However, it has nothing to do with the reason above, as in some cases, EM devices were required in tandem with a large amount of security deposit anyway.
In an interview with Matichon Online in 2020, Somsak Thepsuthin, Minister of Justice, said that the Ministry was implementing a key policy to address the prison overcrowding issue and reduce the use of detention in judicial processes. The aims were to control and monitor those with suspended sentences or on parole and those awaiting narcotic examination result for the sake of public safety.
Nevertheless, the TLHR found that, up until April 2022, at least 61 of its clients accused of political involvement and expression have been ordered to wear EM bracelets. The number includes seven people in 2018, two of whom are still having them on today, three and a half years later, while waiting for the Court of Appeal decision.
In the past one year, between March 2021 – March 2022, at least 54 clients are required to wear EM bracelets.
The cases that are subject to the EM device measure can be categorized into five groups, as follows:
1. Section 112 cases consisting of 22 activist leaders and citizens prosecuted from online expression (not from protests).
2. Cases during the Talugas protests in Din Daeng consisting of 21 people accused of various charges, such as collective possession of explosives, assembly of more than 10 people using force to cause chaos, resisting officials, collectively carrying arms, collectively committing mischief, setting fire to properties, attempted murder, etc.
3. Cases as a result of protests in 2021, not in Din Daeng, such as Talufah and REDEM protests, consisting of 13 people accused of violation of the Emergency Decree, Section 215 and 216 of the Penal Code, etc.
4. Thai Federation cases consisting of 4 people accused of sedition and involvement in illegal organization in 2018, currently under the Court of Appeal.
5. Computer Crime Act cases consisting of 3 people accused of Section 14 (5) from sharing posts from ‘I must have received 100 million from Thaksin’ Facebook Page.
Based on the above statistics, the TLHR found that at least 23 people have submitted requests to the court and received permission to remove the bracelets. Thus, as of today (9 April 2022), there are 38 remaining people wearing them, among which 13 have been imposed with curfews by the to court.
9 Implications of Wearing EM bracelets
Beyond the statistical data, the TLHR found that a large number of clients have faced an array of problems. EM bracelets have brought obstacles to all aspects of the wearer’s daily life in exchange for being temporarily released. The implications from the device can be summarized into nine patterns.
1. Suspicious eyes: public perception of EM bracelet
It is generally understood that people who wear an EM bracelet on the ankle are convicted or prosecuted. However, the public may not be aware of the kind of conviction or accusation that individual faces and/or what kind of case he/she is involved in. While the defendant in a political case is sued or prosecuted for political reasons, wearing an EM device can make people believe that he/she is a serious offender, such in murder, or has already been convicted despite still being under trial and held innocent.
Thus, EM bracelets create suspicion for people interacting with the accused or defendants and difficulties for the accused or defendants to lead a normal life in the society because they feel stigmatized in advance.
Wearing an EM bracelet also means that the accused or defendants have to adjust how they dress. If they feel conscious, they may choose to wear long pants that cover the ankles at all times. Girls may feel unconfident wearing a skirt or shorts exposing the device.
2. Technical issues with the device
A number of accused and defendants have experienced technical issues with EM bracelets. That is, the device still has certain flaws and needs to be recharged every 4-5 hours. The wearer needs to recharge it at least twice a day. If the battery runs out, they would be thought to have attempted an escape.
Moreover, many EM wearers have experienced being unable to recharge the battery due to faults of the provided charging cable, which is a specific model with no substitute, or faults of the battery itself making it depleted quicker than usual. As a result, they had to have the bracelets replaced with the court officials creating further inconveniences.
Some accused people are concerned about recharging during sleep due to the risk of short circuit and instead use a power bank. However, such a power bank must have a fairly large capacity that comes with hefty size and weight. The power bank itself, of course, must be recharged as well.
If the battery is low while outside, some people may be forced to recharge the device while walking around with cables hanging loose, which makes them a target of attention.
In addition, EM devices are somewhat water-resistant, but in no way water-proof. The device’s sturdiness, or lack thereof, can thus impose limits on living. For instance, an EM wearer whose work involves water, such as fisher or swimming teacher, can no longer continue with their profession or can only do so with great difficulty.
According to surveys, it has also been found that EM devices can interfere with musical instruments or loudspeakers. So, musicians cannot perform with ease affecting their usual livelihood.
3. Hygiene requirement: problems and costs related to skin health
EM bracelets are worn by defendants or the accused 24/7, some of whom have experienced issues with the rubber/silicone band that is tied to their ankle, including itchiness or rash, and required a buffering layer of cloth or lotion to reduce friction. This has resulted in an additional cost of tending the skin that is constantly subject to harsh rubbing with the device. In addition, wearers need to clean and maintain the device clean at all times.
The act of recharging each time generates heat at the ankle, not dissimilar to having a mobile phone attached to the skin all the time. This is another cause of concern and discomfort for EM wearers.
4. Curfew restricts access to employment
The surveys reveal that 13 accused or defendants under TLHR care have had a curfew imposed as one of the conditions specifically set by the court. This requirement significantly impedes opportunities of employment for the accused, as their time permitted outside of the residence is usually limited to daytime.
Some accused people who were riders delivering packages or food or taxi drivers who could work anytime of day find that no longer possible, as they are obligated to be back in their residence by 4 PM. This has served as obstacles to their livelihood and caused a decrease in income. Many of them have been dismissed, after the employers became aware of the restriction to the working hours (see the case study of “Athit Talugas”).
4 – 7 PM is also a period of time, during which one carries out activities outside of home, such as having dinner with family, watching a movie, or others unrelated to protests. A portion of EM wearers cannot go to have a familial meal in a nearby province due to the time constraint.
The time requirement has forced many accused people to change their lifestyle and created unnecessary stress. If they are found to not be in the residence during a certain time period, an official may call them up or give them a warning, and ultimately revokes their bail.
5. A spatial confinement, aka a virtual prison
With the curfew rule comes a space designated as residence. The person that is subject to a curfew must identify a place where they will stay after the permitted time. Most have chosen their current home. However, many accused people whose hometown is not Bangkok have specified a residence in Bangkok to facilitate the trial procedures.
Normally, every human has the right to travel or stay overnight at a place of choice. A spatial combined with time restriction has disallowed many accused or defendants to travel for recreational purposes, including within the country, and stay overnight at other places, such as at a friend’s, without court’s permission.
This condition has especially affected the accused people whose work involves extensive traveling, such as training facilitators who have to travel and stay at the training venue or business people who regularly travel for trade negotiation outside of Bangkok.
Even musicians who mostly play at night or in other provinces are also likely to face significant impacts on their job and life, as they have to ask for court’s permission each time.
6. A waste of money and time
EM wearers cannot board a plane because according to the responsible authorities air travel disengages the device signal. While the tracking and monitoring are the main purpose of the EM bracelet, many accused people and defendants, leaders having several ongoing cases in multiple locations in particular, have to travel to different provinces to partake in the judicial processes, such as indictment or court hearings. As such, despite the court’s permission to travel, it is not always easy.
Given the inability to travel on the plane, the accused or defendants have to plan time to travel by cars or public transport. A public transportation entails health risks for travelers due to longer travel time and more crowded space.
Meanwhile, an option to use a personal vehicle for convenience and health usually comes with a higher cost, such as petrol, and still takes much longer than plane.
7. Impacts on occupation: “if you have no job, it is difficult to find one. If you do, it is difficult to work”
A number of EM wearers have faced difficulties finding employment, as the job needs to fit the narrow time window permitted to be outside of residence. Most employers also distrust people who have lawsuits or are under trial. Consequently, the opportunities of jobs for EM wearers involved in political activities are limited.
The impact on the ability to work or work performance leads to major economic problems including decreased household income. Most of the people accused are the breadwinner of the family, and their absence has caused various problems, for example, children are deprived of education opportunities due to an inability to pay the tuition fee, household health deteriorates due to poorer food quality, or family faces risk of homelessness as they cannot afford rent.
8. An overlooked psychological pressure
With the reasons elaborated above, we can see that this merely-300-gram device has the potential to cause unexpected problems to wearers in many aspects. Especially when all of the problems occur to one person, an overwhelming amount of stress and frustration ensues.
There have been reports of people who have been wearing EM bracelets for a long time. For instance, Athit, who is accused of Talugas protests, has shared that he felt as if being in prison, even though his case was not yet concluded, and that the device had brought about obstacles to his profession and economic hardship, which ultimately led to stresses and a suicidal idea.
Many EM wearers said in unison that they feel their freedom is limited despite being outside of the prison. For activist leaders, who had had their freedom deprived for several months in jail and yearned of traveling to different places to relax, their wish has not been fulfilled after they were released. As a result, some of them feel dejected.
The desperation and frustration accrued daily for a long time has a tendency to convert into emotional insecurity. Some wearers feel that the foreign object attached to their life turned them into an ill-tempered person who gets easily upset at trivial things. The perceived stigma from the electronic shackles can negatively impact their social interaction with other people.
9. A bracelet for one person, a bracelet for the whole family
The occupational pressure that each individual bears due to increased difficulty to perform work or find jobs coupled with time and spatial restrictions may lead to the worsening of the relationship with their family or people around them. As family forms the closest inner circle to the accused, emotional clashes can occur any time. At the same time, family members also share emotional weight with the EM wearer.
The restriction on space and time imposed by the EM device may interfere with the daily routine or a special plan with the family. Families that like to spend time together outside the house may have to come home earlier or be unable to go to a preferred place.
Those working from 8 to 5 may not have time for joint activities with family, such as shopping or exercise/stroll after work, because they have to spare time for getting home. Activities with family will have to wait until the weekends, where time is more flexible.
Moreover, not every family supports or welcomes accused people including those involved in political cases. In this case, the EM device acts to deepen the cracks among family members, especially in circumstances where they do not share political views or EM wearers meet with relatives that do not understand them well.
As the intended use of the EM device is for convicted prisoners that receive a penalty suspension and are released on supervision to reduce prison overcrowding, using the device on the accused or defendants on bail while the hearings have not started or no verdict has been issued requires a careful discretion.
Although the conditions for wearing an EM bracelet have been agreed to by the politically accused defendants in the temporary release request form to confirm their sincere intention to comply with the court’s order, the court can deliberate the rationale for the use of the EM device in conjunction with the proportionality of the crime to minimize the impacts on the individuals who are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Particularly, the said impacts concern damages that are not recognized by law. This is different from those detained during trial, which the law recognizes and provides remedy for once the court dismisses or acquits the case. While the conditions for both types of supervision differ and those associated with EM devices seem to be more relaxed, the physical and mental impacts on people subject to either cannot be easily measured.