Military Court frees members of Chiang Mai political clan accused of sedition

The Chiang Mai military court has released members of a political clan accused of committing crimes against the state by distributing letters criticising the junta-sponsored draft constitution.

The military court of the northern province of Chiang Mai at around 3 pm on Friday, 26 August 2016, granted bail at 100,000 baht for each of the 10 suspects accused of violating Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law, the controversial Article 61 of the Public Referendum Act and Article 210 of the criminal code that prohibits political gatherings of five or more persons.

Winyat Chatmontree, a defence lawyer from Free Thai Legal Aid (FTLA), reported that the bail request was granted under the conditions that the suspects not travel abroad without the court’s permission and engage in activities that could cause instability.

Judges denied a custody request from the police interrogators to continue detaining the suspects, reasoning that the risks of flight and evidence tampering were unlikely.

Most of the 10 are members of the Buranupakorn family, a powerful political clan of Chiang Mai that includes Tassanee Buranupakorn, a former Pheu Thai Party MP for Chiang Mai; Boonlert Buranupakorn, former chief of the Chiang Mai Provincial Administrative Organisation; and Khachen Jiakkhajorn, mayor of Chang Phueak Subdistrict of the province.

They were accused of offences for being allegedly involved in attempts to distribute thousands of letters in northern Thailand between 12-15 July. The letters reportedly contained material criticising the draft constitution.

According to the Thai authorities, 11,181 copies of the letters were found and confiscated in Chiang Mai, Lampang and Lamphun provinces.

Most of the suspects were arrested by the military in late July and taken to the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok for interrogation. Initially 11 people were arrested in the case but the court earlier granted bail to Wisarut Kunanitisan, a 38-year-old government official from Chiang Mai accused of the same offences.

According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the content of the letters only pointed out the importance of the 7 August draft constitution referendum to the future of the country. The letters also compared previous constitutions to the 2016 draft constitution’s policies on universal health care, 12 years of free schooling and allowances for senior citizens.

The TLHR reported that at least 17 northerners — 14 from Chiang Mai and three from Lampang — were detained for their alleged involvement with the letters.

 

From left to right, Boonlert Buranupakorn, Tassanee Buranupakorn and Khachen Jiakkhajorn (Photo from Khaosod News)