The detentions this week ordered by the Criminal Court of four protest leaders and the ongoing prosecution of 40 young student activists has sparked rising concern about the use of Article 112 in this context by leading academics and last week, by United Nations officials.
There were protests on Friday outside Bangkok Remand Prison at the jailing of four protest leaders who were, earlier in the week, denied bail on Lèse-majesté charges under Article 112 of the Criminal Code. The incarceration of the four was also the subject of a strong letter to authorities from 126 academics including those working with four leading universities who have strongly criticised their detention and prosecution.
Pro-democracy student protesters staged a gathering outside Bangkok Remand Prison on Friday to protest at the continued incarceration of four members of the Ratsadon movement that has been to the fore of the kingdom’s ongoing student protest activity since July last year.
The four, Arnon Nampa, Parit Chiwarak alias ‘Penguin’, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and Patiwat Saraiyaem, were taken into custody on February 9th when the Criminal Court refused them bail on two grounds.
One was they were very likely to re-offend and the other was given the serious nature of the jail terms faced by the defendants, they posed a flight risk.
65-year-old former civil servant jailed in January for 43 years for sharing an illegal YouTube video
The protest leaders had been arraigned before the court on charges of Lèse-majesté under Article 112 of the Criminal Code which cites any act which defames the Thai Royal family.
The application of the legal provision by the courts has seen a 65-year-old former government civil servant, Anchan Preelert, jailed for 43 years in January in a case that has caught the attention of global human rights agencies and the United Nations.
It is understood that Ms Anchan shared an illegal video produced by a critic of the establishment who was jailed for only five years as her offence, in sharing the material, was more serious, the court found.
Charges against the four protesters came on the orders of the Office of the Attorney-General
The charges against the four jailed this week were brought on the orders of the Office of the Attorney-General and refer to speeches given at a protest meeting at Thammasat University in September last year.
The government, in recent months, has signalled a tougher line with the use of Article 112 and also enforcement of the Emergency Decree given current fears concerning the Covid-19 outbreak in Bangkok.
Protesters gathered outside Bangkok Remand Prison
On Friday, the groups gathered outside the prison included the Nonthaburi New Generation Network, the Red Progressives and the Ratsadon group.
They shouted out repeatedly ‘Release our friends’, raise the three-fingered salute and taking a cue from protesters in Yangon and Mandalay in Myanmar this week, beat pots and pans.
Protests are back on the streets of Bangkok this week with official concerned about the Covid-19 threat
Protest activity has begun in Bangkok again this week with several people arrested and then later released.
On Friday, over 100 police officers monitored the events outside the prison before 8 pm when Police Colonel Sumet Phuchana of Prachachuen Police Station told them to disperse as they were in breach of the Emergency Decree to protect the public against Covid 19.
Bangkok has become a potential new hotspot for the virus as the virulent outbreak in adjacent Samut Sakhon province comes under control amid continued fears of its progression into the city with several new clusters being detected.
Activists plan to continue their demonstration on Saturday and Sunday with events planned at Ratchadamnoen Avenue and Wat Saket.
The protesters have also vowed to protest outside the Bangkok Remand Prison every Friday until their colleagues are released.
Academics voice their opposition to the use of Article 112 against pro-democracy protesters
126 academics have issued a statement deeply critical of the continued jailing of the four protest leaders.
The letter, signed by officials and lecturers at Thammasat University, Chulalongkorn University, Chiang Mai University and Walailak University, said the four accused were pursuing their democratic rights in an open, transparent and non-violent manner.
‘We are of the strong opinion that a person’s right to bail is a crucial principle that the judicial institution which has legal, social and humanitarian duties and is the final beacon of hope for the people must uphold to support the basic rights and freedom of the people,’ they declared.
United Nations expresses its deep unease
This comes a week after human rights officials at the United Nations expressed unease following the jailing of the former civil servant, Ms Anchan, in January after her case had been left in abeyance for some time when the government refrained from using the draconian law. Her case has also been highlighted by Amnesty International.
The United Nations has also expressed its unease about the legal prosecution of over 40 student activists under the provision which could see them sent to jail for long prison terms.
‘We are profoundly disturbed by the reported rise in the number of lèse-majesté prosecutions since late 2020 and the harsher prison sentences,’ the UN team, comprising seven rapporteurs and other key officials, said in a statement.
Move Forward Party is trying to change the law
In the Thai parliament, there is a move underway by the opposition Move Forward Party led by MP Nattacha Boonchaiinsawat, to have the law changed to make it less wide-ranging and punitive.
In recent days, despite the opposition of nine MPs even within the more progressive party’s ranks to the move, Mr Nattacha said he believed the amendment already enjoyed enough support for him to move forward with it.
However, it is sure to be opposed by the government benches as the Thai public has consistently shown opposition to any political actions that attempt to draw the monarchy into politics and Article 112 is seen as a bulwark against this.