Observers needed for lese majeste case

26 12 2014

The Asian Human Rights Commission has issued an important call for observers to attend the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok on the morning of 29 December. Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong, both accused of lese majeste offenses, will be before the court.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AHRC-STM-214-2014
December 26, 2014

THAILAND: Call for observers in freedom of expression case

On Monday, 29 December 2014, at 9 am in the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok, Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong will appear before the court for the first time since being formally charged on 25 October 2014. They have been charged with violating Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code in relation to the performance of a theatre play, ‘The Wolf Bride’ (Jao Sao Ma Pa) in October 2013. This case is one of many involving the constriction of freedom of expression since the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges all concerned persons to attend the court as observers, and calls on other interested persons to follow the case closely.

Case details:

Patiwat Saraiyaem, age 23, a fifth year student and an activist in the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Khon Kaen University, was arrested on 14 August 2014 in Khon Kaen province and is being held in the Bangkok Remand Prison. Pornthip Munkhong, age 25, a graduate of the Faculty of Political Science at Ramkhamhaeng University and an activist, was arrested on 15 August 2014 at the Hat Yai Airport, and is being held in the Central Women’s Prison. They have been held without bail, despite numerous requests, since their arrests and since being formally charged on 25 October with one count of violation of Article 112.

Article 112 of the Criminal Code stipulates that, “Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The use of Article 112 is highly politicized and has frequently been used as a method of silencing dissenting voices, particularly in moments of regime crisis. Although this measure has been part of the Criminal Code since its last revision in 1957, there has been an exponential increase in the number of complaints filed since the 19 September 2006 coup; this increase has been further multiplied following the 22 May 2014 coup.

The case against Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong complaint is in relation to their participation in the performance of a play, ‘The Wolf Bride’ (Jao Sao Ma Pa) at Thammasat University in October 2013 on the fortieth anniversary of the 14 October 1973 people’s uprising. At the time of their arrests, the AHRC noted that their arrests for exercising their freedom of expression in a theatre performance was an indication of the ongoing criminalization of thought and expression in Thailand following the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) (AHRC-STM-157-2014; AHRC-STM-159-2014). Their continued detention is a daily reminder of the deepening human rights crisis put in motion by the coup (AHRC-STM-177-2014). In this case, as well as other freedom of expression cases since the coup, the manner in which the two activists were charged more than a year after the alleged crime suggests that the past has become an open catalogue of acts and speech which can be criminalized in retrospect.

The Asian Human Rights commission would like to remind the junta and the Criminal Court that as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Thailand is obligated to protect and uphold Article 19, which notes that, “1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.” The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the coup in the strongest terms possible and wishes to condemn the denial of freedom of expression and the expanding witch hunt of those who express, or have expressed in the past, critical or dissenting views. To think differently than the junta is not a crime.

The Asian Human Rights Commission also remains gravely concerned about the continued denial of bail in this and other freedom of expression cases. Although extended periods of both pre-charge and pre-trial detention have become common in cases of alleged violation of Article 112, as a state party to the ICCPR, the Thai authorities are also obligated to respect the right to temporary release. In particular, the AHRC would like to remind the junta and the Criminal Court that Article 9(3) of the ICCPR stipulates that, “Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgment.” Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong were denied temporary release for over two months before being charged, and then this denial continued after they were formally charged. Similar to other Article 112 cases, the Criminal Court has made this denial on the basis that if convicted, they would be subject to a heavy punishment and so are therefore likely to flee.

Seven months have passed since the 22 May 2014 coup and there is no clear timeline for an end to martial law or a return to a democratic government and the protection of human rights. Within this context, the presence of observers within the courtroom is a visible reminder to the junta and the judges that the violation of human rights is not passing unnoticed.





Fiction and lese majeste

28 10 2014

The lese majeste repression dragnet is cast and those trapped in it are increasing in number.

We have noted that arrests and charges against university student Patiwat and colleague Pornthi. The Bangkok Post reports on their recent court appearance. Interestingly most of the photos in the media strategically left out Patiwat’s leg irons. Feudal chains are usually used on males charged under this feudal law.

Formally charged on Monday, “they won’t enter a plea until December, but feel the play that sits at the heart of their alleged crime is being taken out of context.”

The play is, of course, the October 2013 performance of fictional drama about a fictional monarch entitled “The Wolf Bride.” It was performed for “a commemoration of the 37th and 40th anniversaries of the Oct 6, 1976 and Oct 14, 1973 pro-democracy student uprisings at Thammasat University.”

The “prosecutors cited nine passages from the pay’s scripts they claim insulted the monarchy in violation of the Article 112 of the Penal Code.”

Patiwat told the Bangkok Post his “first impression” of the charges laid was that the prosecutors had sliced and diced the script “and consider only certain paragraphs [the prosecutors consider] as insulting to the monarchy.” He says they “should look at the big picture and that this is a fictional play.”

The Post reports that “two [other] red-shirt activists, Watt Wallayangoon and Jaran Ditapichai, also face arrest on lese majeste charges for their roles in the play event.” PPT knew of Jaran, who is in exile in France, but not of Watt.





Wolf Bride lese majeste charges

24 10 2014

Prachatai has reported the expected news that they are filing “lese majeste charges against two activists involved in the political play ‘the Wolf Bride’.”

As is usually the case with lese majeste charges, the prosecutors took a considerable time getting their case together, with the defendants being held without bail. It is reported that “Phawinee Chumsri, lawyer representing Patiwat S. and Pornthip M., told Prachatai that the public prosecutor on Friday filed lese majeste charges against the two suspects after almost three months of detention.” The courts have repeatedly refused bail.





Jaran charged with lese majeste

16 10 2014

For a couple of days social media has been saying that the military dictatorship was charging former Human Rights Commissioner Jaran Ditapichai under Article 112.

Prachatai has now reported that Jara has indeed been charged by the royalist junta’s regime. In some ways, this is not unexpected. The Dictator and his junta have long wanted to punish Jaran. Indeed, since the military coup, the regime has filed four charges against Jaran. He is charged with lese majeste and defying the junta’s order to report to the military.

More revealing are the charges that Jaran breached the Emergency Decree during the red-shirt mass protest in 2010. Yes, that’s four years ago. The final charge relates to the red shirt protest targeting Privy Councillor President and coup plotter General Prem Tinsulanonda in July 2007. Yes, that seven years ago.

The most recent charge, of insulting the walking dead, the “veteran political activist” is accused of having organized the play “The Wolf Bride.” Two other activists remain in custody over this play that was performed in October 2013 in remembrance of the 14 October 1973 student uprising. The arrest warrant for Jaran was issued on 26 August 2014.

The others caught in this particular lese majeste dragnet are Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong.

Jaran is in exile in Europe.





Updated: The lese majeste express

14 10 2014

The police are reported at Prachatai, telling the world that “from 2011-2014, there were 93 cases related to Article 112, or the lèse majesté law, pending with the police.” The vast majority of these cases are reportedly “committed on social media and in speeches during political rallies.” That means that almost all of those accused are political activists associated with the red shirt movement.

No doubt under considerable pressure from the royalist military junta, the police declare they “intend to speed up investigation of lèse majesté cases, along with other cases related to national security.” The police have been told to get on board the lese majeste express and implement lese majeste repression in support of the military dictatorship and the royalist regime.

Acting Deputy National Police Chief, Pol Lt Gen Chakthip Chaijinda “told media … that The National Police have resolved on a policy to complete 50 per cent of the Article 112 cases so that only about 46 cases are left by end of this year.” The police will also be chasing “those living overseas and those who have fled abroad.”

In a second report at Prachatai, the “Criminal Court … ruled to continue the detention of two lèse majesté suspects and denied a bail request from one suspect.”

One Bangkok court dismissed a bail request by lese majeste suspect Tanet (family name withheld), who is HIV positive. In his petition, he “cited his poor health conditions as the reason for bail.”

That the judge rejected the bail request is entirely “normal” in royalist courts in royalist Thailand. Yet the judges “reasoning” is revealing of the royalist mind.

The judge states that Tanet was accused of:

distributing false information that could affect public sentiment and aimed to harm the reputation of the beloved Thai monarchy. This is related to national security. The suspect has conducted a serious crime and might escape. Although the suspect claimed that he is in poor health and need to be taken care of by physicians, the proof is not sufficient. Therefore, the court cannot allow temporary release,” said the judge.

According to iLaw, the court also said the document concerning Tanet’s medical condition provided by the lawyer was not strong enough to convince the court to rule otherwise.

Tanet remains accused of “sending an email containing a link to lèse majesté content to Emilio Estaban, who ran the StopLeseMajeste blog.”

A second court “ruled to extend the detention of Pornthip M., 26, for another seven days, at the request of the public prosecutor.” The prosecutor has until 25 October to complete the case against her. She’s been held since mid-August for an alleged “crime” committed by being involved with the political play “The Wolf Bride,” about “a fictional monarchy,” in October 2013, for “the fortieth anniversary of the 14 October 1973 people’s uprising.”

Lese majeste repression is critical for the royalist military dictatorship.

Update: A reader reminds us to look at our own posts when naming names. We neglected to note that Pol Lt Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, who is speaking about lese majeste has declared assets of 968,370,064 baht and 18 satang. Unusually wealthy? Lucky in life? Or something else?





Opposing junta repression and censorship

25 09 2014

The censorship and repression of the military dictatorship is suffocating for many.

Opposing it is difficult and often requires considerable courage.

At Khaosod and also at The Nation, it is reported that some brave academics have opposed the military junta’s ban on any discussion it considers to be about “politics.” Artists are joining protests.

The aged General Prawit Wongsuwan, who is the junta’s Minister of Defense, has been threatening academics who had the temerity to oppose the junta’s censorship.censorship-1

Those academics were condemning “the arrest of three student activists and four professors at Thammasat University for organising a panel on the ‘Demise of Foreign Dictators’ on 18 September.” Prawit responded, demanding that academics “toe the line.”

Khaosod reports that Prach Panchakunathorn, a Chulalongkorn University philosophy lecturer, has “lashed out” at Prawit and the junta’s smothering of academic freedom. Prach stated:

Academics never crossed any line. It’s the military who crossed the line by arresting lecturers and students inside the premises of the university…. We cannot accept that.

Referring to intimidation, Prach stated that “the military has no right to require academics seek permission before organising a public discussion.”

Another academic, Hara Shintaro, from the Prince of Songkhla University, called the junta’s actions “irrational.”

The NCPO  banned all forms of political activity and public protest after seizing power in late May. Violators have been sent to face trials in military court and five anti-coup protesters have been given suspended jail sentences.

Last week, the military also “forced academics at Chiang Mai University to cancel a discussion scheduled for Thursday, titled ‘Happiness and Reconciliation Under 2014 Interim Charter’.” Somchai Preechasilpakul, a law lecturer at Chiang Mai University, pointed out the obvious: “academic freedom is an important issue.”

Some activists have take to social media and others to public protest, wearing box metal cans (beeps) or woven baskets on their heads, said to “embody a Thai idiom for feeling shameful.”

They also pointed at royalist university administrators who joined anti-democrats and who now work for the junta and express shame about this. Somchai pointed out that they have no legitimacy.

Another academic has said, at The Nation, that he and his colleagues would “continue to try and organise a political talk” despite the junta’s restrictions. This came after the military cancelled a third talk, “on shame and the right to freedom of speech slated for yesterday [at Chiang Mai University, which] had to be abruptly called off after a local Army officer contacted the organisers.”

Meanwhile, at the Bangkok Post, it is reported that another social media campaign against censorship and lese majeste repression is involving some in the arts. Using “The Song of Commoners,” they are calling “for the release of two theatre artists Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong” accused of lese majeste and for the release of other political prisoners.

The two accused of lese majeste were involved in the play called Jaosao Mapa (The Wolf Bride), the first rime that a “theatre production has been accused violating lese majeste.”

Some artists feel that their space and creativity as been “trespassed on.” The reaction against The Wolf Bride saw ultra-royalists baying for charges to be laid. The attention of such monarchist fascists is unsettling for some artists. One stated: “Frankly, I don’t feel safe to communicate because I don’t know how my work will be interpreted…. This [lese majeste] law is dangerous to everyone…. If someone interprets your intention the wrong way, that’s the end of you.” Another said, “I’m afraid, but I’m also interested in the challenge of how to handle this topic in my work…”.





Updated: No bail on lese majeste

9 09 2014

Khaosod reports that two detainees who are accused under the draconian lese majeste law for their roles in  a theatrical performance in October 2013 “were denied bail for the second time in criminal court today.” This is now standard operating procedure in most lese majeste cases: presume them guilty before trial and lock them up.

Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong have been jailed since mid-August.

The court came up with a rather different excuse for keeping them locked up. Usually the media report that the judge says that he or she fears flight by the accused. This time the court reportedly stated that “it is necessary to detain Mr. Patiwat and Ms. Pornthip until the investigation into their alleged wrongdoing is complete…”. Normally that would be unconstitutional, but Thailand operates essentially under the military dictatorship’s rules, so constitutionalism is out the window.

The court is saidto have “instructed officials to ‘quickly wrap up their investigation.” That is not a good sign for the defendents for these cases hardly involve much real evidence.

Update: Read Achara Ashayagachat’s very useful account of one of these jailed activists.





HRW on the Thai dictatorship

23 08 2014

Human Rights Watch on the rise of The Dictator and his regime, reproduced in full:

Thailand: Junta Leader Named Prime Minister
Repression Continues Three Months After Military Coup
August 22, 2014

(New York) – The appointment of Thailand’s junta leader as prime minister by the military-picked legislature does not advance human rights or a return to democratic rule, Human Rights Watch said today.

On August 21, 2014, the 191-member National Legislative Assembly unanimously approved Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha as the new prime minister while permitting him to retain his chairmanship of the ruling military authority, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

Three months after the May 22 military coup, the junta continues its crackdown on those exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms and has made no genuine progress towards restoring democratic rule. Under martial law, the junta’s sweeping powers can be carried out without any judicial or other oversight, and with full immunity from prosecution.

“As both prime minister and junta leader, Gen. Prayuth can wield broad power without accountability,” said Brad Adams [3], Asia director. “This marks a dark day for human rights and the future of democracy in Thailand.”

Under the interim constitution proclaimed on July 22, the military junta created a closed and undemocratic political system. The NCPO filled the National Legislative Assembly with military personnel and others known to be close to the junta. Since its formation, the assembly has appeared to operate as a rubber-stamp body for the NCPO rather than placing any checks on the junta’s broad executive powers. For instance, during Prayuth’s presentation of the national budget proposal on August 18, not a single assembly member made a critical comment.

Human Rights Watch learned that after the presentation Prayuth asked, “Anyone disagree with me?” The room remained silent.

Since the military coup on May 22, the NCPO has enforced widespread censorship, largely banned public gatherings and other political activity, carried out hundreds of arbitrary arrests and detentions, and disregarded allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

“Three months under military rule, the junta continues to show contempt for fundamental rights and freedoms,” Adams said. “Criticism is prosecuted, political activity is banned, free speech is censored and subjected to punishment, and several hundred people have been arbitrarily detained.”

Censorship and Restrictions on Free Expression

Restrictions on media and free expression and censorship that began after the coup have continued. Under martial law, the authorities can censor any information considered to be “distorted” or likely to cause “public misunderstanding.” Failure to comply with censorship orders could result in prosecution before a military court. As a result, print and other media operators have generally refrained from publishing news and commentary critical of the military.

The junta has not only targeted media outlets affiliated with the ousted Pheu Thai Party and its mass organization, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the “Red Shirts,” but it has also banned criticism from pro-junta newspapers and other media.

On July 26, the junta issued an order threatening to prosecute the weekly magazine Phu Jad Karn Sud Sapda if it continued to publish “false information to discredit the NCPO” after the magazine published stories alleging military cronyism and corruption. The junta also instructed the National Press Council of Thailand to launch an ethics inquiry against the magazine. In protest, Phu Jad Karn Sud Sapda announced on August 2 that it would stop publication for one month. Through August 21, the magazine’s sister ASTV satellite broadcast is off the air since the NCPO shuttered the station on May 22.

The junta has repeatedly vowed to prosecute critics of the monarchy, in violation of the right to free expression. Since the coup, at least 14 new cases of lese majeste – insulting the monarchy – have been brought to the Bangkok Military Court and criminal courts around Thailand.

On August 14 and 15, the authorities arrested two activists involved in a play, “The Wolf Bridge,” performed in October 2013 that the junta considered to be “insulting to the monarchy.” Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong were denied bail and are being held in detention facilities in Bangkok.

On August 14, the Bangkok Criminal Court found Yuthasak Kangwanwongsakul, a taxi driver, guilty of lese majeste based on his conversation with a passenger, and sentenced him to 30 months in jail. On July 31, the Ubon Ratchathani Court sentenced a 27-year-old man to 15 years in prison for posting messages on Facebook deemed insulting to members of the monarchy.

On August 5, the Cultural Ministry announced that the simulation game Tropico 5 was banned because it contained content that appeared to be offensive to the monarchy. The Cultural Promotion Department chief said the game allowed players to name the country and its leader or king as they pleased, and therefore the content was deemed offensive to the Thai monarchy and might affect the country’s dignity.

Arbitrary Arrests and Detention

Since the coup on May 22, the military has detained more than 300 politicians, activists, journalists, and people accused of supporting the deposed government, disrespecting or offending the monarchy, or being involved in anti-coup protests and activities.

The NCPO has banned public gatherings of more than five people and prohibits any opposition to the military authorities. On August 20, police and soldiers arrested at least 11 energy-reform advocates while they walked on the Asian Highway in Songkhla province’s Rattaphum district. The activists were told that their activity violated martial law provisions banning public gatherings of more than five people. Those arrested were taken to the Senanarong Army Camp in Hat Yai district, where they are being held indefinitely.

On August 10, the authorities ordered Amnesty International Thailand to stop its campaign activity in Bangkok calling for peace in the Gaza Strip, citing the public assembly restrictions and prohibition on political events.

On August 8, the NCPO attempted to stop an academic seminar on the interim constitution at Thammasat University in Bangkok. A letter, signed by Col. Noppadon Tawrit, commander of the Kings Guard’s 1st Field Artillery Regiment, to the university rector, stated that the event should be stopped in order “to prevent the resurgence of differences in political attitude.”

The NCPO has held people in incommunicado lockup in unofficial places of detention, such as military camps. Some have been held longer than the seven-day limit for administrative detention under martial law. For example, Yongyuth Boondee, a well-known Red Shirt supporter, was arrested by soldiers in Chiang Mai province on June 28. He was brought to a news conference on July 1, in which the authorities accused him of involvement in grenade attacks and shootings at opposition demonstrations. Since then, the authorities have refused to provide Yongyuth’s family with information on his whereabouts. On August 8, military officers told legal aid activists that Yongyuth had “consented” to voluntarily stay in military custody at an undisclosed location.

Kritsuda Khunasen, another Red Shirt activist, was arrested by soldiers on May 27 in Chonburi province and held incommunicado until June 24, when she was released without charge. In a video interview released on August 2, Kritsuda alleged that soldiers beat her during interrogation and suffocated her with a plastic bag over her head until she lost consciousness. The Thai authorities quickly blocked access to the interview on YouTube and to an English language article about her case. There has not been any official inquiry into Kritsuda’s allegations or other reports of mistreatment in military custody.

The NCPO’s response to Kritsuda’s allegations has been dismissive, raising broader concerns for the authorities’ treatment of all detainees.

On August 20, Worawut Thuagchaiphum, a student at Mahasarakham University, told the media that military personnel threatened him with enforced disappearance and death while in military custody in May because he had protested against the coup. He and his friends had made cloth banners with anti-coup messages and hung them from a clock tower and around Mahasarakham. After the media reported Worawut’s account, the army unit that allegedly interrogated him summoned him to report to its base.

Since the NCPO’s announcement on June 24 that all detainees held without charge had been released, no information has been provided about releases, and individuals continue to be arrested and detained. Those released from military detention have to sign an agreement that they will not make political comments, become involved in political activities, or travel overseas without the junta’s permission. Failure to comply could result in a new detention, or a sentence of two years in prison, or a fine of 40,000 baht (US$1,250).

“Since the May coup, the generals have tightened rather than relaxed their grip on power,” Adams said. “Instead of the promised path back to democracy through free and fair elections, Thailand’s military seems to be opting for a road to dictatorship.”








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