In May 2022, the number of politically related prosecutions increased only slightly. Most of these prosecutions are related to the royal defamation offence under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, which continues to be consistently used as the main allegation against activists and social media users. Issues related to the right to bail and the right to fair trial remain problematic for those accused of royal defamation. Meanwhile, prosecutions of offences under the Emergency Decree have continued to see a trend of court acquittals or non-indictment decision by public prosecutors. Nevertheless, those prosecuted under the Emergency Decree related offences continue to be burdened financially and timewise by the lengthy legal process.
Based on TLHR’s documentation (between 18 July – 31 May 2022), following the “Free Youth” rally, at least 1,813 individuals in a total of 1,074 cases have been prosecuted due to their expression and participation in demonstrations. This includes 280 individuals under the age of 18.
Compared to TLHR’s April statistics, there are 5 new individuals being prosecuted in 9 new cases (counting only those who have never been prosecuted before).
In total, there have been at least 3,605 prosecutions based on political activism, with many of the accused being prosecuted in multiple cases.
The total prosecutions are based on six groups of offences, as follows:
1. The “royal defamation” offence under Section 112 of the Criminal Code: at least 195 individuals have been charged, totaling 211 cases.
2. The “sedition” offence under Section 116 of the Criminal Code: at least 125 individuals have been charged, totaling 39 cases.
3. Offences under the Emergency Decree: at least 1,452 individuals have been charged, totaling 631 cases (since May 2020 when first allegations against protesters and activists were made).
4. Offences under the Public Assembly Act: at least 107 individuals have been charged, totaling 75 cases.
5. Offences under the Computer Crime Act: at least 132 individuals have been charged, totaling 151 cases.
6. Offence related to Contempt of court (Section 31 of the Civil Procedure Code): at least 34 individuals have been charged, totaling 18 cases; and offence related to defamation of the court (Section 198 of the Criminal Code): at least 25 individuals have been charged, totaling 6 cases.
Out of the total of 1,074 cases, 190 cases have reached a verdict, the majority of which the accused agreed to pay a fine at the police’s stage or at the court. Out of the 190 cases, 11 cases were concluded because of non-indictment orders by public prosecutors.
The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has also identified the following trends of politically related prosecution in May 2022:
+7 royal defamation cases (Section 112 of the Criminal Code), with some of the accused still being detained
In May, there are 9 new cases in total in which TLHR is assisting with, 7 of these are royal defamation cases, with 5 new individuals being accused. As a result, the total number royal defamation cases rose to 211, including 19 cases against individuals under the age of 18.
One of the key cases was the arrest of ‘Get’ Sophon Surarittamrong (he/him) in April. He is member of the pro-democracy group, “Moekluang Rimnam”, who was charged with royal defamation in three cases within the span of one month. In all three cases, the court issued arrest warrants without the police issuing a summons for his reporting first. The cases against him are later allegations based on his speeches at three events: the MuteluTourForLovers protest (made by Samranrat Police Station), the International Labor Day event (made by Nanglerng Police Station), and the Revisit: Who Killed King Taksin event on Charkri Memorial Day (made by Bupparam Police Station). Get had been detained for 30 days throughout May. He was finally released on 31 May.
For the “Revisit: Who Killed King Taksin” event, two activists, Joseph and Mint (he/him and she/her), have been arrested and prosecuted for royal defamation that activity occurred at the Bupparam Police Station’s jurisdiction. However, the police detained both at the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, which does not have any jurisdiction over the alleged crime and then successfully requested the Thonburi Criminal Court for a pre-trial detention. Joseph and Mint were later granted conditional bails.
“Ploy” Benchamaporn (she/her), a 17-year-old activist, was also charged with royal defamation. This is her second case based on her conducting a public poll “Do you agree with the government granting the King power to exercise at his own discretion?” on 18 April 2022. It was reported that Bang Sue Police Station requested an arrest warrant for Ploy from the Juvenile and Family Court, without firstly issuing a summons in line with the criminal procedure. However, the Court did not approve the arrest warrant, but issued a summons for Ploy to acknowledge the charge from the police instead.
Apart from new cases against pro-democracy activists, two individuals have faced allegations due to their online activities. ‘Paradorn’ (he/him), a factory worker, was accused of sharing a message on the monarchy-critical “Royalist Marketplace” Facebook group in 2020. An arrest warrant was issued for him without any reports of a police summons being issued first. He has already reported himself to the Bang Kaew Police Station, in Samut Prakan province located on the periphery of Bangkok.
Surasak (he/him), a bar worker, was presented with a search warrant by the police and had his residence raided. The police then took him to the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) in Bangkok without a summons or an arrest warrant, inconsistent with the criminal procedures. The police then charged him with computer-related offences, accusing him of sharing a message from the monarchy-critical Facebook group “KTUK — Kon Thai in UK (Translation: Thai people in the UK)” in early 2022. The message in question was deemed defamatory to the King as it mentioned a prison inside the Thawi Wattana Palace in Bangkok.
The prosecution of lèse-majesté cases as well as restrictions on freedom of expression related to the monarchy remain unbridled. Four activists were denied bail and have been detained pending trial: Netiporn (she/her), Baipor (she/her), Sombat Thongyoi (he/him), and Veha Saenchonchanasuek (he/him). Other activists who had been detained and were later released, Tawan and Get are still under certain bail conditions, including extensive restrictions related to their abilities to travel and conduct certain activities, as well as a limited on their release periods.
Court proceedings of royal defamation cases continue to impose restrictions, impeding the guarantee of the right to a fair trial. In the past month, the court refused to hear the proposed defense witnesses relating to the King’s authority in the witness examination days in at least 3 cases. Further, the court has yet to issue any subpoenas for witnesses and documents in the #19SeptemberRatsadonTakeBackThePower protest case, as requested by the defense.
There were also the proceedings of the case against Tiwagorn where the Khon Kaen Provincial Court prohibited observers in the courtroom from taking notes of the trial. Public prosecutors have also reportedly expedited the indictment despite requests for more witness examination by the alleged offenders. For example, in the case against Tawan, the prosecutor sped up the process and indicted her soon after the examination began.
Increasing trend of court acquittals or non-indictment decision by public prosecutors, nevertheless, activists continue to be burdened financially and timewise by the lengthy legal process.
The number of Emergency Decree cases, stemming from political activism, has only increased by one in the last month, due to the subsiding figure of demonstrations. Pending cases of events in the last two years have gradually reached a verdict.
In most cases, defendants were acquitted or fined for misdemeanors. The legal proceedings however lasted more than a year, imposing the financial and time burden for activists who had to travel to attend the trials. Many have faced more than 10 lawsuits. The tactical weaponisation of the “law” and the “justice system” to suppress and restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly thus remains the major backbone of the state’s abuse of power.
In the past month, the Lopburi District Court acquitted defendants in the Car Mob case. This marked the second acquittal of cases relating to demonstrations which took place in Lopburi province in Central Thailand. The Dusit District Court also acquitted Samana Dao Din, a 58-year-old former monk of Santi Asoke (Translation: Peaceful Ashoka) or Dao Din Hin Fah, from violating the Emergency Decree and fined him for traffic obstruction. He was alleged to have taken a part in an event at Talufa ‘village’, a spot set up by the pro-democracy Tulafa group (Translation: piercing through the sky) where activists camped out for their protests between 2021- 2022.
The public prosecutor also issued a non-indictment in the case relating to the “Vocational Students United Against Dictatorship” Car Mob, a pro-democracy protest held on 15 August 2021. The decision held that the mob — which took place in an open road with little foot and road traffic, anti-COVID measures in place, and ample distance between vehicles — was not considered an assembly in violation of the Emergency Decree.
Nevertheless, the court passed a conviction with a small fine in some other Emergency Decree related cases. For example, in the case relating to #WaterPouringToSuppressPrayuth event (Note: Water pouring is a Songkran festival tradition to pay respect to the elderly) organised by Talufa group on 15 April 2021, the Dusit District Court fined each defendant 2,000 Baht (approximately USD 57). Similarly, the Taling Chan Criminal Court fined ‘Lamyai’ 5,000 Baht (approximately USD 143). Lamyai (alias) was the driver of a truck with a loud speaker at the RatsadonThonburi protest in front of MRT Tha Phra Undergound station on 2 November 2020.
Although a large number of activists submitted a letter to the Office of the Attorney General urging for an end to the prosecution or non-indictment of pro-democracy activists, there has not been any policy change and hundreds of activists continue to be indicted to date.