Human Rights Lawyers Association's statement on the arrest of 2 activists related to political play deemed lèse majesté

 
Violation of freedom of expression must be stopped
Fair trial principles must be observed
Two student activists must be released without delay
 
 
            During 15-16 August 2014, police officials from the Chana Songkhram Metropolitan Police Station arrested Mr. Patiwat (last name withheld), student of Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts, Khon Kaen University and Ms. Pornthip (last name withheld), social activist, on charges related to Section 112 of the Penal Code or “lèse majesté law”. Both were accused of performing in the “The Wolf Bride”, a political performance presented as part of the 40th commemoration of the October 14 at the Main Hall, Thammasat University in October 2013. As their bail requests were opposed to by the police, the Criminal Court denied them the chance to be released and ordered that they be brought for pretrial detention in the prison claiming that “Given the serious circumstances of the case, (the defendants) might flee”. 
 
            The Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) deems the legal action a threat and violation of the right to freedom of expression and it has also flouted the principle of fair trial based on the following reasons. 
 
1.      According to a democratic principle whereby rights, liberties, equality and human dignity are respected, every citizen is entitled to have the right to freedom of expression through making their speeches, writing, performing or any other methods to communicate their thoughts to others. This also includes freedom to think. The rights are well enshrined in Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
 
That the two individuals are arrested by the police simply because of their performing the play is therefore tantamount to a violation of their right to freedom of expression which can be exercised peacefully via any means possible including arts, theatrical performance or music. 
 
2.      That the Court denied them bail claiming their possible flight, even though the two individuals have shown no intention to run away or to tamper with evidence is an abuse the two individuals’ right to presumed innocence. According to the presumption of innocence principle, a person shall enjoy her or his right and freedom as long as no final verdict is made by the Court to prove her or his guilt. Such a right is indispensable for a person to fully and equally prepare their self defense and to have their human dignity duly respected. 
 
That the two individuals are being imprisoned simply derogates and undermines the safeguard of justice that should be accorded by the Court to people. The fundamental rights are well protected and respected in criminal justice process based on both national and international laws including the ICCPR. 
 
3.      The Criminal Court denied the bail requests claiming “the performance was an offensive mockery” and “It has tarnished the reputation of the monarchy and has brought grievances to the people”. 
 
The statement is an ‘opinion’ made about the merit of the case and therefore it cannot be cited as a reason to detain an alleged offender. In addition, the statement is tantamount to being a unilateral incrimination made against the two individuals without them or their legal representatives being allowed to present their objection or counter-arguments. Such a practice, apart from flouting the principle of presumed innocence, is also a breach to the principle to ensure that an alleged offender be enable to fight their case equally as an alleged offender naturally needs to have sufficient opportunity, time and information to fully prepare their self defense. 
 
4.      Since the coup on 22 May 2014, there have been a number of rampant exercises of power and legal actions to stifle political activism. Such a practice is a violation of people’s rights, freedom and liberties; it has imposed limits of the spaces in which a person can express themselves and participate in political process peacefully. It is also detrimental to any possible effort to nurture and sustain reconciliation which truly reflects the root causes of the conflicts. 
 
            The Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) therefore urges that people concerned with the justice process and public administration;
 
1.  Stop arresting, detaining, taking legal action or exercising any power in any forms which threatens or violates the right to freedom of expression that should be exercised peacefully under democratic and human rights principles 
 
2.  The public prosecutors and the Court must collectively review the actions of law enforcement officials to ensure fairness of the justice process and to prevent any abuse against any individual or groups of individuals. This shall help to uphold the rule of law which is indispensable during the time when there are widely conflicting opinions.
 
3. The law enforcement officials and the Court must respect the presumed innocence principle and the two activists must be granted bail without delay. 
 
With respect for people’s rights, liberties, equality and human dignity
Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA)