THAILAND: Junta Cracks Down on Political Freedom
2 June 2014
A statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
THAILAND: Junta cracks downs on political freedom and freedom of expression
The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to express grave concern about the filing of charges against Apichat Pongsawat under Martial Law, the Criminal Code, the 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA), and the orders of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the military junta that carried out a coup in Thailand on 22 May 2014. The draconian range of legal instruments under which Apichat has been charged raises a series of questions about the status of human rights and the rule of law in coup-era Thailand.
Apichat Pongsawat is currently completing a master’s degree in the Graduate Volunteer Centre at Thammasat University and also works at the Law Reform Committee of Thailand. He was arrested on 23 May 2014 while he was peacefully protesting in front of the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center (AHRC-STM-099-2014). Under the terms of martial law, which have been in place since two days prior to the coup, soldiers can detain and interrogate anyone for up to seven days without having to provide evidence of wrongdoing or bring formal charges. People arrested can be held at irregular places of detention, including permanent or temporary military bases or other sites designated as places of detention. On or before the eighth morning of detention, the authorities must either release the person being detained or begin the process of bringing formal charges again him. Apichat spent one night in the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok, and was then transferred on 24 May 2014 to a military camp in Ratchaburi. On 30 May 2014, rather than being released, he was taken to the Bangkok Southern Criminal Court to be formally charged.
The charges brought by the authorities are related to Apichat’s exercise of political freedom and freedom of expression. He is accused of violating Announcement No. 7/2557 of the NCPO, which prevents any political assembly or demonstration of more than 5 persons, and of disobeying the order of the authorities to cease. When he was formally charged in the Criminal Court, this was categorized as violations of Articles 215 (1, 3), 216, and 368 (1) of the Criminal Code. Article 215 (1) stipulates that, “Whenever ten persons upwards being assembled together do or threaten to do an act of violence, or do any thing to cause a breach of the peace, every such person shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or fined not exceeding one thousand Baht, or both,” and (3) notes that, “ If the offender be the manager or person having the duty to give orders for the commission of the offence, such offender shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding five years or fined not more than ten thousand Baht, or both.” Article 216 stipulates that, “When the official orders any person assembled to gather so as to commit the offence as prescribed under Section 215 to disperse, such person not to disperse shall be imprisoned not more than three years or fined not more than six thousand Baht, or both.” Article 368 (1) stipulates that, “Whoever, being informed of an order of an official given according to the power invested by law, refuses to comply with the same without any reasonable cause or excuse, shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding ten days or fined not exceeding five hundred Baht, or both.” This means that if convicted of violating these articles of the Criminal Code, Apichat could face a prison term of up to eight years, six months, and one week as well as a heavy fine for peacefully expressing his opposition to the coup.
In addition, the authorities are using Article 112, the highly-politicized article of the Criminal Code which 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.” While this measure has been part of the Code since its last revision in 1957, since the 19 September 2006 coup, it has been extensively used by both the state and private individuals to target and silence their opponents. Apichat has also been charged with violating Article 14 (3) of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act (CCA), which has been used in concert with Article 112 numerous times, which stipulates that, anyone who commits violations which “involves import to a computer system of any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom's security under the Criminal Code,” he “shall be subject to imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than one hundred thousand baht or both.”
As the AHRC has repeatedly noted, the investigatory and judicial processes in Article 112 and CCA cases raise significant questions about the strength and fairness of evidence used. What is currently known about this case only confirms these concerns. While Apichat was in detention, his mobile phone was examined by the authorities and they discovered his Facebook account and alleged found pictures of him with leaders of the red shirt United Democratic Front Against Dictatorship (UDD) and attendance at various events discussing Article 112. The authorities allege that in 2010, he posted information on his personal Facebook page that contained content that violated Article 112 and the CCA. Given the heightened political context following the coup and the criminalization of any kind of dissent, the AHRC is concerned about the integrity of the evidence that the authorities claim to have found, and the investigatory means through which they did so.
When Apichat was taken to the Bangkok Southern Criminal Court, the investigatory officials filed a detention request for an additional twelve days, from 30 May until 10 June. They claimed that their investigation is not yet complete and they need to question an additional 10 persons, as well as wait for the results of the fingerprint examination. Apichat submitted a request for bail, and Professor Parinya Thewanarumitkul, a law professor at Thammasat University, offered his civil service rank as guaranty. The investigatory officials opposed bail, and argued that as Apichat was charged with a crime against the institution of the monarchy and faced a potentially lengthy sentence, he might flee if granted release. The Court concurred, and also noted that Professor Parinya’s relationship with Apichat was not close enough to allow his rank to be used as a form of guaranty. Apichat was then sent to the Bangkok Remand Prison on Friday afternoon.
The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the crackdown on rights and liberties by the National Council on Peace and Order in Thailand and calls for the immediate release of Apichat Pongsawat. He is a citizen who was expressing his opinion peacefully and who now faces a potentially lengthy prison term for doing so. The AHRC is particularly concerned that Apichat is being further charged under dubious conditions with alleged violations of Article 112 and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act for posts he allegedly made on Facebook during 2010. Given the destruction of the already tenuous rule of law by the junta, the possibility of a fair investigation and trial is rare, and the Asian Human Rights Commission is concerned that he will instead be subjected to a judicial process that lacks any semblance of justice. The AHRC will be following this case closely, and encourages all others concerned with human rights and justice in Thailand to do so as well.