Court dismisses charges against anti-junta activist

Pathumwan District Court of Bangkok has dismissed charges against an anti-junta activist indicted for protesting against the coup in May 2014.

Pathumwan District Court on Thursday morning, 11 February 2016, dismissed charges against Apichat P., an anti-coup activist, who had been charged with violating the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order No. 7/2014, which prohibits any political gathering of five or more persons.

The court cited Articles 16 and 18 of the Criminal Procedure Code, saying the prosecution did not present documents on the division of authority among public officers to affirm that police officers from the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) had the authority to interrogate Apichat.

“Although the court dismissed the case on technical grounds over the powers of officers instead of human rights grounds, I hope that the verdict will create new standards on similar cases,” said Apichat after the ruling.

Representatives from the Delegation of the European Union, the German Embassy and international human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists were present in the courtroom.

Rangsiman Rome and Chanoknan Ruamsap, pro-democracy activists from the New Democracy Movement (NDM), also attended the hearing to give moral support to the defendant.

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

On 23 May 2014, one day after the coup, he was arrested by military officers in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) in central Bangkok holding a flyer reading “I will not accept barbaric power” and shouting pro-democracy slogans against the coup makers such as “return power to the people”.

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

Besides violating the junta’s ban on assemblies, the prosecutors also indicted Apichat for offenses under Articles 215, 216, and 368 of Thailand’s Criminal Code.

Article 215 sets out a six month jail term or a 1,000 baht fine or both for assembling with 10 persons or more who threaten acts of violence which breach public order, while Article 216 increases this to  three years’ imprisonment or a 6,000 baht fine or both, if they disobey an official order to disperse. Article 368 carries a sentence of 10 days in jail for refusing to comply with the orders of legally authorized officials.

During the first hearing on the case in November 2015, the judge told Apichat and his lawyers that the case is not serious. So even if he was proven guilty, the sentence would not be heavy. But Apichat maintained that he would continue to fight until the end to prove his innocence even though it might result in a heavier sentence.

“Even if the verdict turns out the be the worse, that is the court bowing down to the junta’s power and having me imprisoned, I will, nevertheless, request to appeal the verdict under the same principle that the coup d’état is against democracy”  Apichat wrote on his Facebook profile yesterday. “This is not between me and the junta, but about democratic principles.”  

Apichat arrested by a military officers after participating in an anti-coup protest in central Bangkok on 23 May 2014 (file photo)

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