The month of October resulted in one of the highest number of verdicts in one month, 16 in total, coming from both the Court of First Instance and Court of Appeals in lese-majeste cases. Meanwhile, three more people prosecuted for political reasons have ended up in detention. In Chiang Mai, a military officer accused activists by using both charges under Section 116 (sedition) and the Public Assembly Act.
According to TLHR statistics, at least 1,930 people have been prosecuted in 1,253 cases due to their participation in political assemblies and expressions since the beginning of the “Free Youth” protest on 18 July 2020 until 30 September 2023.
Among this number are 216 cases involving 286 children and youths under 18 years old.
Compared to September 2023, two more people have been prosecuted resulting in four lawsuits (only counting those never been charged before).
If we also count and include those who are charged repeatedly in multiple cases, we have found that there would be at least 3,928 instances of prosecution in total.
The prosecution can be grouped according to key charges used, as follows:
1. The royal defamation or “lèse-majesté” charge under Section 112 of the Penal Code: at least 259 individuals in 281 cases.
2. The “sedition” charge under Section 116 of the Penal Code: at least 130 individuals in 41 cases.
3. Charges of violation of the Emergency Decree: at least 1,469 people in 663 cases (since May 2020 when the first lawsuit against protesters and political activists was filed)
4. Charges under the Public Assembly Act: at least 177 people in 90 cases.
5. Charges under the Computer Crime Act: at least 187 people in 207 cases.
6. Contempt of court charge: at least 38 people in 21 cases and insult to the court charge involving at least 34 people in 10 cases.
Out of the mentioned 1,253 cases, 441 have been rendered final, meaning over 812 cases are still ongoing at various stages.
The following key events have been observed as part of the prosecution trend in October 2023:
The Court of First Instance and Court of Appeals set one date for verdict reading after another throughout the month. Now, over 100 cases in two years in total have reached court decisions. Three additional people have been jailed this month.
We have been made aware of at least one person who has been charged with the lese majeste law in one case in October. The case had been filed previously with the Chiang Mai Provincial Court but only came to our attention now. The details remain unknown.
As for the ongoing lese-majeste trials, the Court of First Instance passed verdicts for ten more cases, while the Court of Appeals passed verdicts for six cases. Thus, the total number of cases in the past two years that have received court decisions has exceeded 100.
The First Courts’ verdicts concern four cases where the defendants maintained their innocence and six where the defendants confessed.
For the former, the court convicted the defendants in three cases: two without suspension, including that against Folk Saharat (imprisonment of two-year term) and Busbas Monkol (imprisonment of four-year-and-six-month term), and one with a suspended sentence against Benja Apan.
The other case was the case against Wanwalee “Tee” and two others, who joined a demonstration in Bangkok holding banners with texts. The Chiang Mai Court acquitted the other two defendants, seeing that the texts on the banners were unclear as to whether they could be considered an offence under Section 112. However, the Court , found Wanwalee guilty and sentenced her to an imprisonment of a term of 2 years and 8 months. That said, she has been granted bail during appeal.
In the cases where the defendants confessed, four cases have received suspended prison time, though in one case the court decided to suspend the determination of punishment. Only in the case against Weha was the defendant sentenced to an imprisonment for 2 years and 12 months without suspension, even though the defendant changed his mind to confess while still insisting, on denying the justice system.
The Appeal Courts’ verdicts mostly affirmed the First Courts’ decisions. There were two cases where the defendants went on a trial and were sentenced to imprisonment without suspension, including the case against Pornchai in Yala (2-year term) and “Kanlaya” in Narathiwat (6-year term). While Pornchai has been granted bail during the submission of an appeal to the Supreme Court, Kanlaya has not and, thus, has been placed under detention at Narathiwat prison.
In the cases against Waree in Narathiwat, Pipat in Samutprakan, and Sureemart in Krabi, the Appeal Court has affirmed the decisions of the First Courts to acquit the defendants. In one case, however, the Appeal Court Region 1 modified the Samutprakan Provincial Court’s imprisonment sentence to a suspended sentence instead.
There was also a case against two children who confessed, and the Juvenile Court ordered that the special measure in lieu of a verdict be applied. The court cited Section 132 Paragraph 2 of the Juvenile Court Act, in effect putting “Poom Hualumphong” and “Phattarachai” under care of a Juvenile Observation Center for one year and six months, respectively, and requiring them to attend a vocational training. Both were taken to Ban Metta Remand Home.
As such, by the end of October, there are at least three new detainees (two of whom are youth), as far as we are aware, associated with lese-majeste lawsuits. The current total number of those in detention during trial in lese-majeste cases is 13.
As more verdicts have rolled out last month, we have found that generally when the courts pass imprisonment sentences without suspension, the defendants are unlikely to be granted bail, despite showing no tendency to flee.
One new protest case was filed, while the courts issued verdicts for nine other cases.
In October, one case related to political protests has been initiated against four activists and students in Chiang Mai by a military officer from the 13th Military Circle citing charges under Section 116 of the Criminal Code (sedition), the Computer Crimes Act, and the Public Assembly Act. The reason was the activists/students had organized a political activity at the Three Kings Monument on 24 June 2023.
In this case, we have discovered that Section 116 has been cited merely because a protester had read the declaration by the People’s Party (Khana Ratsadon) during the protest. Even though the act concerned the reading of a historical document/text, it was interpreted by the soldier as raising unrest and dissatisfaction and causing people to transgress the laws of the Country. We will have to see the police and the public prosecutor’s take on this.
As for the Emergency Decree cases related to the 2020-2022 protests, we have found that the courts have passed verdicts for nine further cases in the past month. In three cases, the defendants have been acquitted of all charges, including a Din Daeng protester who was not granted bail and was detained during an investigation for 48 days.
In the other six cases, the defendants were found guilty. Most have received a punishment of fine, except the case of the anti-coup rehearsal protest at Ha Yaek Lat Phrao, where the three leaders have been sentenced to imprisonment without suspension, and the case against Benja Apan, which additionally contained a lese-majeste charge and the defendant has received suspended jail time. In the former, bail has been granted during appeal.
Meanwhile, the public prosecutors also decided against indicting four further Emergency Decree cases related to political protests, all of which took place in the Northeast. These include three Nakhon Panom car mobs and one Khon Kaen car mob.
It is also to be noted that Wantana, a citizen from Ratchaburi accused of joining an anti-PM activity during Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s field visit, was sentenced by the Ratchaburi Kwaeng Court to an imprisonment of the maximum sentence of term of 6 months and 10 days and to a fine of 1,000 Baht without suspension. The sentence was for all three charges as alleged, including failure to comply with the officer’s order, causing noises without an appropriate reason, and fighting or obstructing an officer. That said, Wantana has been granted bail during appeal.
Some activists have received a summon warrant containing contempt of court charges issued by the Central Juvenile and Family Court. As far as we know, at least four people have been accused but little details about them are known at this point.