Update on The “NLA Sit-In” Trial of 10 Thai Human Rights Defenders

Activists who have been charged for trespassing the National Legislative Assembly in 2007 and their lawyers wish to invite observers from human rights and media rights organisations and representatives from foreign embassies in Thailand to attend the trial to help ensure that they receive a fair hearing, as they believe that the charges against them and the possible penalties that they face are grossly disproportionate to their non-violent actions of civil disobedience against a legislature appointed by a military junta which was rushing through legislation affecting human rights and civil liberties just 11 days  prior to a general parliamentary election.

Background Information

Following the military coup on 19 September 2006 and the suspension of the 1997 Constitution, the military council formed by the coup leaders established a “National Legislative Assembly” (NLA) to act as an interim unicameral legislature for enacting legislation until parliamentary elections were held under a new constitution. All members of the NLA were selected by the military council.

After the promulgation of the 2007 constitution on 24 August 2007, the NLA continued to function as the legislature, and during the last two months before the general parliamentary election of 23 December 2007, the NLA rushed through the passage of a number of extremely controversial laws affecting human rights, civil liberties, community rights, and social justice. This was done despite strong opposition and protests by many civil society groups. The most controversial of these was Internal Security Act, a law demanded by the military to allow them to hold special powers to deal with national security issues after the return to elected civilian government.  Other controversial laws passing through the NLA included legislation on privatisation of state universities, water management, and state enterprises.

On 11-12 September 2007 the Thai NGO Coordinating Committee (NGO-COD) with Jon Ungphakorn (1st defendant) serving as Chair and Pairoj Polpetch (8th defendant) as Vice-Chair held a consultation involving a number of civil society networks and labour union leaders which ended with a public statement and press conference calling on the NLA to abandon consideration of 11 controversial bills considered to violate the rights, freedoms, and welfare of the public according to the 2007 Constitution.

On 26 September 2007, a delegation from NGO-COD and the Confederation of State Enterprise Labour Unions submitted an open letter to the NLA Speaker, Mr. Meechai Ruchupan at the parliament building.

On 29 November 2007, a mass demonstration was held outside the parliament building and grounds, demanding that the NLA immediately abandon consideration of the 11 controversial bills, requesting members of the NLA to consider resigning their office, and asking members of the public to sign a petition for the NLA to cease all legislative activities in view of the coming elections for a democratic parliament.

On 12 December 2007 another mass demonstration was held outside the parliament building and grounds, this time involving well over one thousand demonstrators. At around 11.00 a.m. over 100 demonstrators climbed over the metal fence surrounding the parliament building using make-shift ladders to enter the grounds of parliament.  Around 50-60 demonstrators were then able to push their way past parliamentary guards to enter the lobby in front of the NLA meeting chamber where the NLA was in session. They then sat down peacefully in concentric circles on the lobby floor. Negotiations with some members of the NLA and with a high-ranking police official ensued, until at around 12.00 noon the demonstrators were informed that the NLA meeting had been adjourned. The demonstrators then left the parliament building and grounds, returning to join the demonstrations outside the premises.

Further demonstrations were held outside the parliament building and grounds amidst tight police security on 19 December 2007. Despite all the protests, the NLA passed the Internal Security Act which remains in force to this day.  Some of the other controversial laws were also passed.

On 22 January 2008 the ten defendants were summoned by police to acknowledge a number of charges against them. Prosecutors later asked police to investigate further, and more serious charges which were then brought against the defendants, while less serious charges such as using a loudspeaker without prior permission were dropped. The prosecution was submitted to the Criminal Court on 30 December 2010, and all the defendants were allowed to post bail by the court.

The Defendants are:
1.    Mr. Jon Ungphakorn, NGO and human rights activist
2.    Mr. Sawit Keaw-wan, state enterprise union leader
3.    Mr. Sirichai Maingam, state enterprise union leader
4.    Mr. Pichit Chaimongkol, NGO and political activist
5.    Mr. Anirut Khaosanit, farmers’ rights activist
6.    Mr. Nasser Yeemha, NGO and political activist
7.    Mr. Amnat Palamee,  state enterprise union leader
8.    Mr. Pairoj Polpetch, NGO and human rights activist
9.    Ms. Saree Ongsomwang, NGO and consumer rights activist
10.  Ms. Supinya Klangnarong,  Freedom of expression and media reform activist

The Charges:

Collaborating to incite the public to violate the law through speech, writing, or other means outside the boundaries of constitutional rights or legitimate freedom of expression (Section 116 of the Criminal Code – maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment); gathering in a group of 10 or more people, in the capacity of leaders or commanders, to threaten or to carry out an act of violence or to act in a way which causes a public disturbance (Section 215 of the Criminal Code – maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and/or fine of up to Baht 10,000); trespass with use of violence (Sections 362, 364, and 365 of the Criminal Code – maximum penalties of 5 years imprisonment and/or fines of up to Baht 10,000 under both Sections 362 and 364 as qualified under Section 365)

The most important dates for attending the trial are:

1)    February 21st 2012 (morning and afternoon) is the opening day for hearing witnesses at which the most important prosecution witnesses will be testifying, including former speaker of the National Legislative Assembly, Mr. Meechai Ruchupan, a notorious legal expert who has served a number of  dictatorial regimes.
2)    March 20th-23rd and 27th (morning and afternoon), during which the 10 defendants will be testifying in order (half-day each)
3)    March 28th-30th, April 3rd-5th, April 10th 2012, during which prominent defence witnesses will be testifying, including:
    28th March (morning) Pravit Rojanaphruk (afternoon) Gothom Arya, Nirun Pitakwatchara
    29th March (morning) Ubonrat Siriyuvasak
    30th March (morning) Vitit Muntarbhorn
    4th April (afternoon) Chaiwat Satha-Anand
    5th April (morning) Kanit na Nakorn
    10th April (afternoon) Phra Phaisan Visalo
    April 10th  2012 is expected to be the last day of the trial before the reading of the verdict (date not yet known)

From 21 February - 10 April 2012, ten prominent Thai NGO/ labour union/ human rights activists will be on trial at the Criminal Court, Rachadapisek Road, Bangkok on serious criminal charges relating to national security, public peace, and trespass with the use of force arising from a mass sit-in staged in the lobby in front of the meeting chamber of the National Legislative Assembly on 12 December 2007. If found guilty of all charges, they could face prison sentences of up to 20 years.

Trial Dates: (Tuesdays to Fridays; Morning sessions 09.00-12.00, afternoon sessions 13.30-16.30)

a)    Witnesses for prosecution  (Total 24 sessions)
February  21-24, 28-29  
March  1- 2, 13-16

b)    Witnesses for defence  (Total 24 sessions)
March  20-23, 27-30      
April  3-5, 10              

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