Anti-junta activist vows to fight on amid risk of heavier sentence

Despite the possibility of heavier jail term, an anti-junta activist charged with violating Thai junta’s political gathering ban vows to stand firm on principles and fight on.

The Court of Pathumwan District, Bangkok, on Friday morning, 11 September 2015, held the first plaintiff examination hearing on a case of Apichat P., an anti-coup activist, who has been charged with violating the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s Order No. 7/2014, which prohibits any political gathering of more than five persons.

Apichat, a 26 years-old law graduate student was among the first group of people, who were arrested by the coup-maker in the immediate aftermath of the May 2014 coup d’état.

On 23 May 2014, a day after the coup, he was arrested by military officers in front of Bangkok Art and Cultural Center (BACC) in central Bangkok while he was holding a flyers reads “I will not accept barbaric power” while shouting pro-democracy slogans against the coup maker, such as “return the power to the people”.

The military detained him under the martial law declared then for seven days before transferring him to Bangkok Remand Prison for another 23 days of detention. Before his release, Apichat’s family requested 1,000,000 baht (about 27,751 USD) bail four times, but the court rejected bail, citing flight risk.

Besides the violation of the junta’s assembly ban. The prosecutors also indicted Apichat of offenses under Article 215, 216, and 368 of Thailand’s Penal Code.

In brief, Article 215 lays out six months jail term or 1,000 baht fine or both to people assembling with 10 persons upwards who threaten to do an act of violence which breaches public order while Article 216 states that such persons shall receive additional three years imprisonment or 6,000 baht fine or both if they disobey the officials order to disperse.  

Moreover, Article 368 could land Apichat in prison for an additional 10 days in jail for refusing to comply with the orders of officials whose authorities are invested by law.  

At the court today, Lt Pirapan Sansern, the plaintiff, testified that Apichat clearly defied the NCPO’s Order No. 7/2014 which was issued on 22 May 2014, the day of the coup.

“The suspect was carrying an anti-junta flyer among other protesters and walked through the crowd to the front role once he saw a line of military officers. He then shouted the anti-coup slogans and tried to encourage other protesters to shout along with him,” said Pirapan.

The officer claimed that he was the one who arrested Apichat himself.

According to the suspect, however, the officer who arrested him was not Pirapan, but Col Burin Thongprapai of the Judge Advocate General’s Office, an officer who has been involved in many arrests of suspects under Article 112 of the Penal Code, lese majeste law.

Apichat said that he did not do anything wrong and only expressed his opinion against the coup-maker peacefully. “According to the 2007 Constitution, citizens are entitled to protect the rule of law under the constitution and I did just that,” said the defendant.

The judge on the case told Apichat and his lawyers that the case is not serious. Therefore, if proven guilty, the sentence is not heavy. But, Apichat said that he will continue to fight on until the end to prove his innocence even though it might result in heavier sentence.   

He told Prachatai “I do not accept the authorities of the junta for they are not legitimate and will continue to fight on.”

In an earlier interview with iLaw, an online based NGO which documents cases related to freedom of expressions, Apichat said “this is a case about citizens who stood up to protect the [2007] constitution against the coup-maker, who has assumed power through undemocratic means. [I believe] it is a duty of citizens to do so.”

Before the hearing today, Apichat submitted a petition to the Constitutional Court asking the court to rule whether Order No. 7/2014 of the junta is against the 2007 Constitution. The court, however, dismissed the petition.

Besides charges on his anti-coup activities, the police also alleged Apichat for defaming the monarchy through posting two facebook messages prior to the coup. Nonetheless, the prosecutors have not finalised whether to press lese majeste charge against him or not.

Apichat is a law graduate student from Thammasat University and is currently working at the Law Reform Commission of Thailand. He has been active in pushing for laws to protect children and LGBT rights in the country, including, other progressive labor laws.