Unending lese majeste detention

6 11 2018

Adilur Rahman Khan is the Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights or FIDH. He has recently stated:

The detention and prosecution of Siraphop Kornaroot violate his fundamental rights to liberty, freedom of expression, and a fair trial – all rights guaranteed by international treaties to which Thailand is a state party. It is very disturbing that after more than four years there is no end in sight for Siraphop’s trial and the military court, which should not try civilians in the first place, continues to deny him bail.

This statement is in the context of the FIDH and its partner organization, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights having petitioned the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, seeking the release of lese-majeste defendant Siraphop.

The statement by FIDH observes:

Siraphop, 55, has been detained for more than four years and four months – the longest time for a person currently charged or serving a prison sentence under Article 112. Siraphop was arrested on 1 July 2014 in Bangkok and is currently incarcerated at the Bangkok Remand Prison. Since July 2014, the Bangkok Military Court has rejected Siraphop’s bail applications seven times, the most recent today, 5 November 2018. His trial before the Bangkok Military Court has been ongoing since 24 September 2014.

Also known as Rung Sila, Sirapop has been held for almost 1,600 days without his trial in a military court having been completed.

In petitioning the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, FIDH and TLHR called for:

the immediate and unconditional release of Siraphop and for all the charges against him to be dropped. FIDH and TLHR also urge the government to end the abuse of lèse-majesté and immediately and unconditionally release those detained or imprisoned under Article 112 for the mere exercise of their fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Sirapop has refused to plead guilty. This often leads to not just arbitrariness on the part of the military junta and judiciary, but a vindictiveness that amounts to lese majeste torture.





Suppressing information on lese majeste trials

24 10 2018

Our second post on information missed earlier is from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and is about a Military Court’s direction to suppress publication of witness testimonies and court dockets in the case against lese majeste detainee Thanakorn:

The Bangkok Military Court has conducted a hearing on a probable case against Anon Nampa, an attorney on 3 October 2018 at 13.30. It stemmed from the publication of evidence given by the prosecution witness, Maj Gen Wijarn Jodtaeng, in the case against Mr. Thanakorn (last name withheld) who was accused of sharing Rajabhakti corruption diagram and clicking ‘like’– deemed offensive to a royally adopted dog. The Court also ordered Anon Nampa to inform the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) to have the information removed from the published article “Military official, who reported the case against a person for sharing Rajabhakti corruption diagram and clicking ‘like’– deemed offensive to a dog, actually did not know how to use Facebook, but he insisted that by just clicking ‘like’ on a page offensive to the monarchy is in itself the commission of royal defamation” (http://www.tlhr2014.com/th/?p=8950). The article to be removed by the Court’s order has been published on TLHR’s website. The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) who is not a party in this case, would like to take this opportunity to explain to the public as follows;

1. The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) has been providing legal and litigation assistance to vulnerable people whose rights have been affected by the exercise of the state power as a result of the coup in 2014, including cases concerning the freedom of expression and cases of civilians who are prosecuted in the Military Courts.

According to the statistics collected by the Judge Advocate General’s Department, from 25 May 2014 to 30 June 2018, civilians have been indicted with the Military Court in over 1,723 cases and at least 281 cases are pending the review. TLHR has been assisting in 58 cases in which the civilians stand trial in the Military Court, of which 12 cases have been “secretly” conducted by the court’s order. Furthermore, the Military Court also prohibited any observer from recording the court proceeding. Recently, the Military Court banned a public dissemination of dockets in two cases, namely, the case concerning a call for election on 24 September 2018, and the case against Mr. Thanakorn on 3 October 2018.

2. According to Section 30 of the Civil Procedure Code, “The Court shall have power to give to any party or any third person present in the Court such directions as it may deem necessary for the maintenance of order within the precincts of the Court and for the fair and speedy carrying out of the trial.” Nonetheless, the latest direction to suppress the public dissemination of the docket in this case is unrelated to the maintenance of order within the precincts of the Court. Besides, the dissemination of the docket shall not affect the justice to be served in the case. Thus, it cannot be deemed a violation to the Section 30 of the Civil Procedure Code.

3. A public trial is one of the core elements to ensure the right to the fair trial according to the Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As a state party to the Convention, Thailand is obliged to implement its provisions. According to the principle, a person is entitled to a fair and public trial. The public trial does not only involve those in the court room, but it must be open and accessible to every individual.

Moreover, the public trial can ensure the transparency of the justice process and can guarantee the rights and the freedoms of the people. Therefore, apart from being important in itself, the public trial is an entitlement– necessary to ensure other elements that constitute a fair trial and to build trust in the justice process among the public.

4. TLHR has been reporting details of every hearing that the Court did not order the trial to be conducted secretly and suppressed the dissemination of the docket. The information has derived from a summary of evidence given in the Court and from the trial observation.

The publication of contents summarized from the witness testimonies is not tantamount to the publication of the court documents. After all, such publication has been granted a consent by the defendants. This is to ensure transparency in the justice process, particularly the trial of civilians in the Military Court, where the defendants are supposed to enjoy less safeguards that protect their right to fair trial, compared to trials in the Court of Justice.

Therefore, the dissemination of information concerning the court proceeding does not only affect the trial, but also helps gracing the image of the Military Court itself. It is a better alternative than ordering the hearing to be secretly conducted and the suppression of the docket dissemination.

TLHR is determined to provide legal assistance to civilians tried in the Military Court and to inform the public of related information. This is to ensure the transparency and the safeguard of the right to the fair trial amidst the extreme deterioration of democracy and the rule of law.

With respect in people’s rights and liberties

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)





Updated: Lese majeste on the way out?

22 09 2018

Readers will have seen the several stories about and appeals court dropping lese majeste charges against six persons who allegedly burned public portraits of the previous king and the current one. They might also recall that PPT pointed to a change in the lese majeste wind:

There has been some social media discussion of the meaning of this dismissal [of Tom Dundee] – despite the guilty plea extracted – and the recent unexplained dropping of a lese majeste case against lawyer Prawet Praphanukul. Does this indicate that the regime and/or palace changed the absolute draconian approach to lese majeste?

The South China Morning Post reports:

The six, aged between 18 and 20, were arrested last year for setting fire to portraits of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, at several spots around the northeastern province of Khon Kaen. A court found them guilty of lèse-majesté, arson, damaging public property and organised crime.

One of the six was jailed for 11-and-a-half years, three received terms of seven years and eight months, while two got three years and four months.

The appeals court has dropped the lese majeste charges against them “but they will still have to serve lengthy jail terms for damaging public property.”

In the report a human rights lawyer has said this “appears to be a new policy direction.”

But they still have hefty jail terms: “nine years instead of 11 and a half; six years instead of seven years and eight months; and three years instead of three years and four months.”

According to Pawinee Chumsri, a lawyer of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, “[o]nly 10 lèse-majesté cases remained before the courts.” Pawinee adds: “Since the beginning of this year, the court has dropped Article 112 prosecutions and pursued other charges instead…”.

Channel NewsAsia also quotes Pawineewho says: “It’s somewhat good progress to see 112 cases are not easily prosecuted…”. Yingcheep Atchanont, of iLaw, says “there have been four acquittals this year and no new cases.”

The junta says it is being “careful” with 112 charges as it shines its international credentials and looks to a post-“election” future as a “legitimate” regime. At the same time, the huge increase in cases in 2014-16 has had its political impact, shutting up critics of monarchy and regime as red shirts and republicans who have not fled Thailand have been silenced.

That said, we suspect the King recognizes that 112 does him no good either, although he’s used the law himself to sort out his own issues.

Sedition and computer crimes charges are now likely to be favored, reducing the criticism the regime and monarchy face in future.

Update: The Bangkok Post editorial on lese majeste is worth reading.





Academic harassment

23 07 2018

Earlier in the month PPT posted the Amnesty International statement on the profoundly ludicrous charges against academics and students from Chiang Mai University. Those charges were against Prof Chayan Vaddhanaphuti, director of the Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development at Chiang Mai University, Pakawadee Veerapatpong, Chaipong Samnieng, Nontawat Machai and Thiramon Bua-ngam. They attended and organized the 13th International Conference on Thai Studies at Chiang Mai University in July 2017. They all denied charges of breaching the junta’s ban on political assembly. Human Rights Watch described the charges as bogus.

They were formally indicted in Chiang Mai on 4 July. Their next court hearing is set for 18 August.

For more information on the case, see the latest update by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

To take action and call for the prosecution to be halted, you can sign this letter organized by Scholars at Risk and please also forward the link to other colleagues.

Scholars at Risk has also sent a formal letter General Prayuth Chan-ocha and other relevant parties calling for the prosecution to cease.

The International Commission for Jurists has issued a formal letter calling for the prosecution to be stopped.

This case is one of many cases of restriction of freedom of thought and political freedom generally under the military dictatorship. For more information on the range of prosecutions for lese majeste, sedition, public assembly, and other peaceful actions, see the four-year report of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.





“This is considered unusual in legal practice”

28 06 2018

On 27 June 2018, human rights lawyer Prawet Praphanukul was found guilty of sedition and sentenced to 16 months in prison. This is a somewhat surprising outcome in a case where the lawyer challenged the courts.

With five others, Prawet was arrested  by the military on 29 April 2017. The six were detained on lese majeste charges for allegedly sharing a  Facebook post on the theft of the 1932 revolution plaque on about 5 April 2017. That post was allegedly authored by exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul. It was claimed that the post called for Thailand to become a republic.

Initially detained incommunicado, Prawet has been held in jail since then. In addition to lese majeste, he and the others faced sedition and computer crimes charges.

Prawet himself 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 faces up to 171 years in jail, although maximum sentencing in Thailand is 50 years.

PPT’s view was that the twinning of sedition and lese majeste made it clear that the military dictatorship was seeking to prevent any criticism of the king for his presumed role in the theft of the plaque.

Little has been heard of any of the detainees other than Prawet.

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

Prawet challenged 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…”. Prawet said he would not participate in the case nor have a lawyer represent him.

When he finally reappeared in court on 8 May 2018, Prawet engaged in a heated 30-minute argument with 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.

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

Again, the judges seemed flummoxed by this challenge to the way the judiciary (mis)handled lese majeste cases.

The judges then closed the court for a secret trial. The verdict was supposed to have been delivered on 23 May but was delayed for more than a month, suggesting that behind the scenes there was considerable activity.

The surprises in this verdict for Prawet were that the sedition sentences were remarkably short and  that the court dropped “any mention of the royal defamation charge against him…”. Nor did the court explain why 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 this short report 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.





An “election” that cannot be free or fair

27 06 2018

We at PPT have long pointed out that notions of Thailand’s junta delivering a free and fair election are ridiculous. In several posts we have shown why this is impossible. There has been relatively little discussion of this so far, but as the “election” becomes a site of debate, there’s more discussion of the nature of the junta’s rigged “election.”

One recent report worth noting is of a human rights activists speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand and reported at Khaosod has delivered a similar conclusion: “Democratic elections next year will be meaningless under the existing political and legal conditions imposed by the military government…”.

One aspect of the report worth considering is the conclusion that “the next elected government could become a puppet of the military, even with the junta out of the picture…”.

According to Sirikan Charoensiri of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, that puppetry can only be avoided if there is a strong civil society:

Civil society can strongly support the new government to fulfill the wishes of civilians under democratic rules. In this way, civilian authorities could disconnect from the absolute power of the military junta….

That strikes us as grasping at straws. One of the main tasks the military dictatorship gave itself was the atomization of civil society, disciplining some, crushing others and supporting anti-democrat elements of civil society.

Another assessment is by academic James Taylor at East Asian Forum. He argues that the current military dictatorship is just one more authoritarian government:

… throughout its history and in the years since the 2014 coup, Thailand’s fascistic tendencies have emerged through the crevices of an imaginary democratic state. Thailand was never able to establish its democratic bearings and has been constantly held back by military–monarchy interests.

He points to the most basic facts of the post-coup regime and its tasks:

Upon seizing power … the military junta was quick to suppress dissent, limiting rights and freedoms. The coup makers replaced officials at all levels with hand-picked senators and lackeys emplaced in all public sectors, administration, courts and so-called independent bodies. Aside from the implications of the 2017 military constitution, this would make it difficult for a new freely elected party to implement institutional or policy reforms.

Taylor thinks the way forward is for “new movements and sites of struggle must emerge…”.

Such movements and sites are only likely to emerge from principled opposition to military authoritarianism.





Observation a crime under the junta

29 12 2017

Back on 31 July 2016, two members of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) observed a “Talk for Freedom” seminar on the military junta’s then draft constitution that was meant to be approved in a referendum. In order to ensure a positive vote, the junta had banned any discussion of its constitution that it deemed negative.

The activists who organized the seminar were charged with breaching the junta’s ban on public gatherings of five or more people.

Remarkably – well, not really, for no act of political repression is remarkable in Thailand – the police and military also arrested the two TLHR observers.

Even more remarkably – well, not really, for no act of political repression is remarkable in Thailand – a Military Court in Khon Kaen province has begun hearing the case against the two for doing no more than observing the seminar.

While the two have pleaded not guilty and will fight the case, Prachatai points out that “the TLHR staff were not the organisers of the event, but rather human rights defenders who came to observe,” and adds that this “is the first case under the NCPO [junta] regime where the authorities have pressed charges against human rights defenders for merely monitoring an anti-junta activity.”