End judicial harassment of pro-democracy activists and reporter

18 07 2016

This is a post of an Asian Human Rights Commission appeal. It refers to the now well-known detention of students and a Prachatai reporter. We reproduce the appeal in full, not least because it includes significant detail on the case. The original is here.

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-089-2016

18 July 2016

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THAILAND: End judicial harassment of pro-democracy activists and reporter

ISSUES: Administration of justice; arbitrary arrest; freedom of expression; military
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Dear Friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received updated information from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) regarding the arrest of activists who attempted to exercise their right of expression. On 10 July 2016, the Ban Pong police searched the vehicle of the New Democracy Movement (NDM) activists, and found campaign material about the Constitutional Referendum and “Vote No” fliers. They were then held in custody for questioning, together with a reporter from Prachatai. No charges were initially pressed against them, but afterwards the Commander of the Provincial Police Region 7 instructed the officer to charge them with violating the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E. 2559’s Section 61 for preparing to distribute the fliers.

CASE NARRATIVE:

On 10 July 2016 at around 11:30 a.m., police officials from the Ban Pong Police Station, Ratchaburi, searched the vehicle of Mr. Pakorn Areekul, aka “Man”, an activist of the New Democracy Movement (NDM). Mr. Pakorn had gone to Ban Pong District earlier to give moral support to some residents who had been summoned to acknowledge their charges. The local people there have been charged as a result of opening a referendum monitoring center. In the back of the activist’ pickup truck, the officials have found documents featuring reasons against the Draft Constitution, ‘Vote No’ stickers, and fliers made by the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT). Mr. Pakorn, along Mr. Anan Loket and Mr. Anucha Rungmorakot, his fellow NDM activists as well as Mr. Thaweesak Kerdpokha, a reporter from Prachatai, were about to board the vehicle when they were summoned for questioning. Mr.Thaweesak was interrogated, despite showing his press ID card.

Initially, the officials did not press any charges against, simply informing them that they had to put the information into the daily record and had to seize the documents. But later, at around 12:00 p.m., the police informed them that they had just sent the information to the Provincial Election Commission and local military authorities for review. During the initial questioning, Mr. Thaweesak revealed that the officials tried to establish that Prachatai online news has been the funder behind the NDM, including giving the activists money to print the material to campaign against the Draft Constitution.

Then, the Deputy Superintendent of Ban Pong Police Station had made the phone call to the Election Commissioner on electoral affairs, Mr. Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, who informed the police that if the documents were simply in the possession and not yet distributed, the activists could not be held accountable. But if they had distributed them, whether it would violate the Order of the Head of the NCPO No. 3/2558 or not, this would be subject to the discretion of the police on a case by case basis. Nevertheless, according to the police, the Commander of the Provincial Police Region 7 insisted that the act could be actionable as the activists were getting prepared to distribute the material and hence decided to press charges relating to the Constitutional Referendum Act’s Section 61, paragraph two against them. Mr. Somchai also added that the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) was still reviewing the referendum campaign material of the NDM, but insofar could not determine if by simply having them in possession would constitute an offence or not.

In the Arrest Memo, the police noted that around 11:00 a.m the arresting police have received a report from people who acted in good faith and via the police scanner of the Ban Pong Police Station that a group of individuals were driving a pickup truck carrying with them documents and gears in the back of the truck. From their behavior, it was believed they were there to distribute the documents, the fliers, and brochures to campaign against the vote to endorse the Draft Constitution in Ban Pong District. From further investigation, it was found that the vehicle had pulled over on Songphon Road, Ban Pong Municipality, Tambon Ban Pong, Ratchaburi. The officials have thus identified themselves and asked to search the vehicle.

From the search, the evidence no. 2-14 were recovered, and from asking Mr. Pakorn Areekul, they have learned that he had travelled there with Mr. Thaweesak Kerdpokha, Mr. Anan Loket and Mr. Anucha Rungmorakot in order to visit their friends who have been summoned in the case of the unlawful assembly of five persons and upward or a political gathering without permission and to run the campaign about the Draft Constitution. Regarding the evidence no. 2-14, Mr. Pakorn accepted that they belonged to the New Democracy Movement (NDM) and they had been loaded into his vehicle.

The officials have thus seized the evidence and informed the arrestees of the charge against them for “having transmitted a text, or an image, or sound through the print media, or radio, or television, or electronic media, or other channels, which are inconsistent with the truth or are violent, aggressive, rude, inciting or threatening and aimed at preventing a voter from casting a ballot or vote in any direction shall be considered as disrupting the referendum”, which is an offence of the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E. 2559’s Section 61 paragraph two.

The 14 items of evidence seized by the officials include the pickup truck, Vinyl banner reading “Any Thai Prime Minister is subject to mocking” (one copy), a loudspeaker and microphones, ‘Vote No’ bookmarks, document ‘Seven reasons why the Draft Constitution should be rejected’. brochure “How to cast your votes”, document “A dissenting opinion”, document ‘Release the Seven Referendum Prisoners’, public statement of the Nitirat Group on the Referendum, document “How to apply to vote outside your constituency” and ‘Vote No’ stickers.

The four suspects pleaded not guilty to the charge and refused to sign their names in the Arrest Memo. Later at 16.00, the police also searched in the passenger cabin and seized five more items on top of the documents already seized including a NDM donation box made of paper with 2,571 baht inside and a booklet “In the name of the NCPO’s (in)justice” by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

Around 18:00 p.m., the police have brought the four suspects to a holding cell at the Ban Pong Police Station and denied them bail at the police level. They were informed that the interrogation shall take place that night and they would be brought to the Provincial Court of Ratchaburi for a remand hearing on 11 July 2016 which TLHR attorneys filed a motion objecting the remand then.

Of late at 20.20 p.m., it was reported that four vehicles of police officials have laid siege to the residence of Mr. Panuwat Songsawatchai, student of Faculty of Political Science, Maejo University Phrae Campus – Maejo University, another suspect in the same case who was summoned to turn himself in at the Ban Pong Police Station as a result of his activity at the referendum monitoring center in the morning. He was pressed with the same charge as the four individuals.

On 11 July 2016 at 9:00 a.m., all five were brought to the pre-trial remand hearing at the Provincial Court of Ratchaburi. The police investigator of Ban Pong Police Station asked the Court to have them remanded for 12 days and the Court approved as submitted by police. However, six alleged offenders have been released by the order of the Court, by placing bail bond at 140,000 Baht (around 3,975 $) each.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Previously, on 23 June 2016, other NDM activists and union activists, 13 of them, were arrested while distributing campaign material in the public to urge them to vote during the Constitutional Referendum in Samut Prakan province. They were pressed with charges relating to the violation of the Order of the Head of the NCPO No. 3/2558 and the Constitutional Referendum Act’s Section 61 (please see Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-075-2016 for more information). In addition, seven other student activists from the Kasetsat Liberals were apprehended while organizing a ceremony to mark the anniversary of Thailand’s democracy “24 June: Dusting off Democracy” at the Lak Si Monument on 24 June and their ‘Vote No’ campaign material of their car were also seized. The seven activists were pressed with charges relating to the political gathering of five persons and upward, the violation of the Order of the Head of the NCPO No. 3/2558, though they were not charged for violating the Constitutional Referendum Act’s Section 61.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write letters to the authorities below, asking them to immediately withdraw the case and end any ongoing investigation into the 4 activists and 1 reporter from Prachatai.

Please note that the Asian Human Rights Commission is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion expression and seeking his urgent intervention into this matter.

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ___________,

THAILAND: End judicial harassment of pro-democracy activists and reporter

Name of victim: 1. Mr. Pakorn Areekul 2. Mr. Anan Loket 3.Mr. Anucha Rungmorakot 4.Mr. Thaweesak Kerdpokha 5. Mr. Panuwat Songsawatchai

Names of alleged perpetrators: Military Officers and Police Officers

Date of incident: 10 July 2016 to the present

Place of incident: Ratchaburi province, Thailand

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding the arrest of the New Democracy Movement (NDM) activists and a reporter on the offence against the Constitutional Referendum Act as a result of the documents recouped from their vehicle, even though they were not yet distributed, emerged in the wake of puzzlement by the suspects in the case.

While the international community has frequently described freedom of expression as one of the essential foundations of a democratic society because it guarantees the right of every person to exchange information, debate ideas and express opinions, the Constitutional Referendum Act B.E. 2559’s Section 61 paragraph and its implementation have shown contradictory results. Because it intends to restrict people’s right who need to discuss – and to criticise – decisions about their country.

Moreover, generally Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prohibits the state from interfering with freedom of expression. This would prevent, for example, the government attempting to ban particular forms of political or artistic expression. The prohibition is not limited to the government but also includes all public bodies such as local authorities, schools and universities which Thailand, as a State party, should respect it.

Therefore, I would like to urge:

1. The Commander of Royal Thai Police to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against the 4 activists and 1 reporter who were trying to campaign and report around the referendum on the draft constitution;
2. The Commissioner-General of Royal Thai Police and the Attorney General of Office of Attorney General to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of the 4 activists and 1 reporter and unconditionally drop all charges against them;
3. The Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission to urge The Royal Thai Police and The National for Peace and Order (NCPO) to take prompt action to protect the 4 activists and 1 reporter who were trying to campaign and report around the referendum on the draft constitution;
4. The NCPO to cease obstructing, threatening, and arresting those who campaign around the referendum and express differing views about the draft constitution in an orderly, peaceful and open manner, and allow the free presentation of views to accept or reject the draft constitution through various channels.

Yours Sincerely,

……………….

PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. General Prayuth Chan-ocha
Prime Minister
Head of the National Council for Peace and Order
Rachadamnoen Nok Road
Bang Khun Phrom
Bangkok 10200
THAILAND
Tel: +662 283-4000
Fax: +662 282-5131
Email: panadda_d@opm.go.th

2. Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda
Commissioner General of the Royal Thai Police
Rama I Rd, Khwaeng Pathum Wan,
Khet Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330
THAILAND
Tel: +662 2516 831
Fax: +662 2053 738

3. Pol.Sub.Lt. Pongniwat Yuthaphunboripahn
Deputy Attorney General.
The Office of the Attorney General
The Government Complex Commemorating His Majesty the King’s 80th Birthday Anniversary 5th December, B.E.2550 (2007), Building B 120 Moo 3
Chaengwattana Road
Thoongsonghong, Laksi Bangkok 10210
THAILAND
Tel: +662 142 1444
Fax: +662 143 9546
Email: ag@ago.go.th

4. Mr. What Tingsamitr
Chairman of National Human Rights Commission
The Government Complex Commemorating His Majesty the King’s 80th Birthday Anniversary 5th December
B.E.2550 (2007), Building B 120 Moo 3
Chaengwattana Road
Thoongsonghong, Laksi Bangkok 10210
THAILAND
Tel: +662141 3800, +6621413900
E-mail: help@nhrc.or.th


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