Military court detains Chiang Mai political clan over letters criticising draft charter

A Military Court in northern Thailand has detained 10 people, including a former Member of Parliament for Chiang Mai, accused of sedition over letters criticising the junta-sponsored draft constitution.

The Chiang Mai Military Court on Thursday, 4 August 2016, granted the police permission to remand in custody Tassanee Buranupakorn, former Pheu Thai Party MP for Chiang Mai, Boonlert Buranupakorn, former chief of the Chiang Mai Provincial Administrative Organisation, Khachen Jiakkhajorn, mayor of Chang Phueak Subdistrict of the province.

Chiang Mai's Mueang District, and seven other persons, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported.

The 10 will be detained for an initial custody period of 12 days in Chiang Mai Prison and the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution with the possibility of renewal. The Military Court denied requests to grant 100,000-200,000 baht bail for the 10, reasoning that they might tamper with the evidence.

The authorities accused them of violating Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law, Article 210, on criminal association of five or more persons, and the controversial Article 61 of the Public Referendum Act for their reported involvement in attempts to distribute thousands of letters in northern Thailand between 12-15 July. The letters contained material allegedly criticising the draft constitution.

They were arrested and taken to the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok last month. The military invoked their authority under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s Head Order No. 3/2015, which gives security officers nearly absolute power to maintain security, to detain them for interrogation at the military base.

Initially, 11 people were arrested in the case, but the court granted bail to Wisarut Kunanitisan, a 38-year-old government official from Chiang Mai, accused of the same offences. He is, however, still in custody in Bangkok for interrogation.

Thewarat Winta, the driver of Boonlert Buranupakorn, and Netithat Aphiratimai, Khachen’s secretary, are also accused of involvement in the case. Thewarat already reported to the police while the authorities are now seeking permission to detain Netithat.

The Thai authorities reported that 11,181 copies of the letters were found and confiscated from Chiang Mai, Lampang and Lamphun provinces.

According to TLHR, the content of the letters only points out the importance of the 7 August draft constitution referendum to the future of the country and discusses the policies for universal health care, 12 years of free schooling and allowances for senior citizens under the provisions of the 2016 draft constitution in comparison to the previous constitution.

Up to now at least 17 northerners, 14 from Chiang Mai and three from Lampang, have been detained for their alleged involvement with the letters.   

Tassanee Buranupakorn (third from the left in the white shirt) in front of the Chiang Mai Military Court on 4 August 2016 (Photo from Winyat Chatmontri's Facebook account)