Court frees Prachatai journalist, democracy activists

A Provincial Court has freed a Prachatai journalist and pro-democracy activists arrested over campaign leaflets for the draft charter referendum.    

The Provincial Court of Ratchaburi Province on Monday afternoon, 11 July 2016, granted permission to the police to detain Taweeesak Kerdpoka, a Prachatai journalist, three anti-junta NDM activists, Pakorn Areekul, Anucha Rungmorakot and Anan Loked, and Phanuwat Songsawadchai, a student activist from Maejo University, Phrae campus.

However, at around 4:30 pm the court granted bail for each of the five for 140,000 baht.

Taweesak and the three NDM members were detained by police from Ban Pong Police Station in Ratchaburi Province at around 11:30 am on Sunday after the police searched the activists’ car and found copies of an NDM booklet which provides information on the draft constitution which counters that of the junta. Later, at around 8:20 pm, police officers arrested Phanuwat at his house in Ratchaburi.

The police accused the five of violating the controversial Article 61 of the Referendum Act despite the fact that they did not distribute any booklets.

The article imposes a prison term of up to 10 years, a fine of up to 200,000 baht and loss of electoral rights for five years on anyone who publishes or distributes content about the draft constitution which deviates from the facts, contains rude and violent language, or threateningly discourages voters from participating in the referendum.

The Prachatai journalist and activists, however, maintain that they did nothing wrong.

“If we can’t campaign for a no vote then the draft constitution referendum is meaningless,” said Pakorn. In the courtroom, he said that Article 7 of the Referendum Act allows people to honestly criticise the draft constitution.

Pawinee Chumsri, lawyer for Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), said that police officers on Sunday night refused a bail request for the five, reasoning that the penalty for the charges is severe.

Col Winthai Suwaree, spokesperson of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said on Monday that it should be investigated why the Prachatai journalist was with the NDM activists while the Thai Journalists Association and Thai Broadcast Journalists Association said that the Prachatai reporter was merely performing his duty and should be released.

Fellow pro-democracy activists and others on Sunday night and Monday morning visited the five to give them moral support. Shortly after the arrest, the NDM and Dao Din, another youth pro-democracy activist group based in northeastern Thailand, issued statements to condemn the arrest.  

 

Chaturon Chaisang, the former deputy Prime Minister under the Yingluck Shinawatra administration, who is battling several political charges, posted a message on his Facebook account to condemn the arrest.

 

“It must be told to Gen Prayut that this is way too barbaric,” wrote Chaturon. He said that he has seen the leaflet and there is nothing illegal about it, adding that even Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, an Election Commissioner, said earlier that the leaflets are not illegal under the controversial Referendum Act.

Taweesak went to Ban Pong Police Station on Sunday morning to report on another event, where 18 activists from Ratchaburi reported to the police over their participation in a political assembly deemed illegal under the junta’s rule while the three NDM activists came to the police station to give moral support to the 18. When they were about to leave, however, their car was searched.

The Prachatai journalist and the four pro-democracy activists at Ban Pong Police Station on 11 July 2016

Taweeesak Kerdpoka, Prachatai’s journalist