Stolen history 6

Arrested by the military on 29 April 2017, on 3 May 2017, a court approved the detention of six persons for alleged lese majeste for allegedly sharing a Facebook post on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on about 5 April 2017.

On 27 June 2018, human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Initially detained incommunicado were human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul (then 57),  Danai (surname withheld), a political dissident from Chiang Mai, and four others, still unnamed.

Those arrested include company employees, a lawyer, a university lecturer, a recent graduate and a teacher. They appear to be political opponents of the military regime. Prawet has been critical of the military dictatorship and the lese majeste law. Danai was  initially reported to be accused of Facebook messages critical of the junta.

The six were accused of lese majeste for sharing a Facebook post about the missing 1932 Revolution Plaque posted by Somsak, who is exiled in France. It is claimed the post called for Thailand to become a republic.

The Criminal Court in Bangkok granted police custody over six people accused of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code. The police and military rounded the six up in different parts of the country in late April 2017. Other charges included computer crimes and sedition.

Prawet was accused of three separate charges under Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law, computer crimes and 10 counts of lese majeste. In total, Prawet faced up to 171 years in jail, although maximum sentencing in Thailand is 50 years.

The twinning of sedition and lese majeste tell us that the military dictatorship was determined to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the stealing of the 1932 plaque.

The six were initially detained incommunicado at the 11th Army Circle base in Bangkok and then was handed over to police. Prawet denied all charges from the time of his arrest. Indeed, he did not even recognize them. Danai also denied the charges but the details of his alleged “crimes” were not outlined in the police submission to the court, raising questions about the legality of his detention (not that the junta is ever worried about law and legality).

Three of the other four suspects are claimed to have admitted sharing messages, while another suspect denied the charges. It remains unclear what has happened to them.

Prawet appeared in court on 18 September 2017 and stunned the court by stating, in a prepared statement, that he did not accept the judicial system and did not wish to examine witnesses and evidence against him.

Prawet’s challenge is to the court’s impartiality:

“Thai courts do not have the legitimacy to try the case. Therefore, I declare that I do not accept the judicial process in the case,” Prawais wrote, adding that he will not participate in the case nor grant authority to any lawyer to represent him.

Facing 50 years in prison, he believes that it will not make any difference whether he pleads guilty or innocent because he will not be able tell the truth anyhow.

The court, seemingly flummoxed, fell back on its usual approach on recalcitrant lese majeste victims and decided to drag things out and punish-torture Prawet. So the court delayed its next scheduled hearing to 8 May 2018.  Presumably, the court hoped that having him jailed would change Prawet’s mind and have him plead guilty.

It didn’t work.

On 8 May 2018, the case resumed. Before testimony began, Prawet engaged in a heated 30-minute argument with the judges, stating he did not believe the court will rule his lese majeste case with fairness and impartiality. He asked the judges to try him in absentia and hand him the maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

The judges responded “that they would rule the case with justice and sympathy to the defendant, adding that nobody can influence the court.”

Prawet stated: “he will not accept the authority of the court to prosecute him but would not obstruct testimony.” He also dismissed his lawyers and refused to sign any documents saying the “justice system was not sufficiently impartial to rule on royal defamation prosecutions, so he decided to deny the authority of the court.”

The judges then closed the court for a secret trial. UN staff protested but were ditched out of the court.

A verdict was initially scheduled to be read on 23 May 2018 but was delayed for more than a month. Presumably the court and others debated what they could do with the recalcitrant lawyer.

In the end, the lese majeste charges mysteriously disappeared and he was only sentenced to a (court face-saving) five months on each sedition charge. This was all very surprising.

The lese majeste cases were “dropped without explanation.”

In the three sedition cases where the “military [regime] alleged he [Prawet] was behind a group calling on Redshirts and Yellowshirts to unite and turn Thailand into a federal republic,” he received only five months on each count, suggesting that the “evidence” was weak but that the court needed to save some face. With time served, he could released within weeks.

Prawet was given another month in jail “for refusing to fingerprint court documents…”.

On lese majeste charges disappearing, Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said: “Usually, when the court acquits someone, they have to clearly explain it…. This is considered unusual in legal practice.”

In the context of Prawet’s challenge, we read the verdict and lese majeste non-verdict as a statement that the court and the regime probably wanted to prevent further criticism of the courts. Yet by mysteriously dropping the lese majeste charges the court again demonstrates that the law is a feudal remnant that is not only incongruous with modern law but is itself outside the law. Lese majeste cases are not subject to the law as it is written and nor are those charged given legal and constitutional protections to which they are entitled.

While the sedition “convictions” save face, the lese majeste is a festering sore for the judiciary. A gangrenous judiciary does Thailand no good. “Amputating” the law is the only solution if the courts are ever to be taken seriously and to fulfill their duties to the people.

Prawet’s stand has been brave and principled. As far as we can recall, he is the first to challenge the courts in this way.

Little has been heard of any of the six other than Prawet although some suggest that they were forced to kowtow before a portrait of the king and apologize before being released.

Prawet was released on 26 August 2018.

His case may not be over as Prawet said that “the general attorney is appealing the case. He vows to keep fighting the case but will rest for a few weeks.”

Media accounts of the Stolen History 6’s case:

Prachatai, 27 August 2018: “Embattled lèse majesté lawyer released after 16 months in jail

Khaosod, 27 June 2018: “Lawyer Goes to Jail For Sedition, Cleared of Lese Majeste

Prachatai, 10 May 2018: “Prawet Prapanukul: lèse majesté suspect who fights like an underdog

Prachatai, 18 September 2017: “Human rights lawyer accused of lèse majesté defies authority of the court

Bangkok Post, 18 September 2017: “Lawyer forfeits rights to fight lese majeste case

Prachatai, 28 June 2017: “Court refuses to free human rights lawyer accused of royal defamation

Prachatai, 12 May 2017: “Bail denied to human rights lawyer facing up to 50 years jail

Khaosod, 10 May 2017: “Professor, Law Grad, Teacher Among 6 Charged with Lese Majeste

Prachatai, 10 May 2017: “University lecturer faces 15 years in jail for sharing FB post

Bangkok Post, 4 May 2017: “Rights lawyer faces up to 150 years in prison

Prachatai, 3 May 2017: “6, including human rights lawyer, arrested for lèse majesté

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