For the past 9 months, the Criminal Court has been refusing to issue summonses for documents requested by lawyers representing activists charged with royal defamation for the 19 September 2020 protest to be used as evidence, delaying the witness examination process.
Protesters gathering at Sanam Luang on 19 September 2020
Following the 19 – 20 September 2020 protest at Sanam Luang and the nearby Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus, 22 activists were charged with sedition for their involvement in the protest. Of this number, 7 are also charged with royal defamation: Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Parit Chiwarak, Anon Nampa, Patiwat Saraiyaem, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, Panupong Jadnok, and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that, although the witness examination process began in December 2021, lawyers have not been able to cross examine prosecution witnesses, as the Court has refused to issue summonses for documents requested by the defendants to use as evidence in the cross examination process. Some documents were the subject of a summons, but the defendants have yet to receive them.
TLHR said that, in November 2021, defence lawyers requested 6 documents from several agencies, including records of King Vajiralongkorn’s travels, records of the Royal Offices and of the Crown Property Bureau’s budget spending, and documents relating to a court case filed by the Ministry of Finance against King Prajadhipok and Queen Rambai Barni.
The documents were requested because the public prosecutor indicted the activists on the grounds that their speeches about the crown’s budget and King Vajiralongkorn’s alleged stay in Germany are false, so the defendants needed to summon the documents to prove their innocence.
In December 2021, after the first prosecution witness testified, the defence lawyers asked the Court to issue summons for the documents, but were told by the judge that the Court cannot order other organizations to hand over evidence not directly related to the case, and that the defendants are responsible for obtaining the evidence for witness examination. The defence lawyers then requested the Civil Court, the Criminal Court, the Crown Property Bureau, the Immigration Bureau, and Thai Airways to submit documents to the Criminal Court.
Student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattankul surrounded by volunteer protest guards as she submitted the demands for monarchy reform to the then-metropolitan police commissioner.
In March 2022, the Immigration Bureau informed the lawyers that they were not able to release the King’s travel records as the information is considered information that can damage the monarchy under Section 14 of the Official Information Act and so cannot be disclosed.
The defence lawyers then informed the Court that the agencies from which they had requested documents either did not reply or told them that the Criminal Court has to issue a summons for the documents. However, the Court told them that the documents are not related to the witness being examined, and that the issue can be discussed once the prosecution started questioning witnesses on whether the speeches are false.
In June 2022, the Court agreed to summon related court documents, but said that records of the King’s travels and budget spending cannot be disclosed because this is considered information which can damage the monarchy according to the Official Information Act.
However, by August 2022, the defence lawyers still hadn’t received documents requested from the Civil Court and the Criminal Court, even though summonses have already been issued and received. They then requested scheduled hearings to be postponed since they cannot cross examine prosecution witnesses until the documents have been delivered.
The judge said that witness examination should continue while they wait for the documents, and the defendant can cross examine prosecution witnesses after the documents have been delivered, noting that there is no need for the defendant to prepare evidence as the prosecutor’s job is to prove that the defendant is guilty and if they are not able to prove this, then the charges will be dismissed.
Following discussion in the courtroom, the next witness examination hearing was scheduled for Tuesday (20 September). However, TLHR said that the hearing was postponed again because the defendants have not received documents relating to the court case against King Prajadhipok and one of the defendants was not able to come to court due to an illness.