Police condemned for hasty, unlawful interrogation, collection of evidence, intimidation of lawyers

Human rights lawyers condemned the Thai police for the hasty arrests of 14 embattled student activists and the unlawful collection of the activists’ mobile phones.

Yaowalak Anuphan, head of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), said at a press conference on Sunday, 28 June, at Thammasat University, that the arrests on Friday were hasty and unprofessional.

The 14 activists, mostly students, were arrested for political gatherings on 22 May, the first anniversary of the 2014 coup d’état, in Bangkok and the northeastern province of Khon Kaen.

After the arrests, investigating officers attempted to interrogate the activists without their lawyers present. The activists therefore refused to proceed with the investigation and declared that they would only proceed if represented by lawyers, said Krisdang Nutcharat, a lawyer from the TLHR.

Krisdang pointed out that the arrested activists have the right to a lawyer of their choice to prevent the authorities from taking advantage of them.

The activists were also arrested without questioning or taking fingerprints because the police were in a hurry to take the activists to the military court and submit a custody petition before midnight of Friday, added Yaowalak.

TLHR also announced that normally the court closes at 4 pm. Therefore, the operation of the military court until midnight just for these arrests raises suspicions of unprofessionalism.

After the arrest of the student activists, from around midnight until 3 am on Saturday, military and police officers attempted to search a car of a TLHR lawyer parked in the military court compound. The lawyer, however, refused to let officers search her car without a warrant, and stood guard at her car all night as the police refused to let her drive away.

On Saturday morning, after the warrant was acquired, a police officer broke evidence collection protocol by seizing five phones belonging to the activists without a proper procedure to seal evidence while being transported. He disappeared with them for ten minutes, then returned and handed the phones over to an evidence collection officer.

Krisdang Nutcharat stated that evidence obtained via unlawful procedures cannot be used in court.

The lawyer added that during those ten minutes, the phones could easily have been tampered with. Moreover, the unwarranted break-in attempt and intimidation of a lawyer denotes unlawful action, as well as obstruction of justice.

Krisdang also relayed four messages from the activists to the public at the press conference. First, the activists insist that they are political prisoners accused of political wrongdoing. Second, they do not have the intention to request bail, except in the case of temporary release for immediate medical attention. Third, all 14 activists reject the authority of the military court and will only go to trial in a civil court. Finally, the activists called for their release, as well as the release of all other political prisoners, without condition.