Police press charges against seminar observers for first time

Police officers in Thailand’s northeast have achieved a new standard of intimidation after pressing charges against two rights advocates for merely observing a seminar criticizing the junta-backed charter. 
 
On Wednesday, 31 July 2016, police officers in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen summoned six people to Mueang District Police Station to hear accusations against them. The authorities accused the six of breaching NCPO Order No. 3/2015, the junta’s ban on public gatherings, for allegedly hosting a seminar titled ‘Talks for Freedom’ criticizing the junta-sponsored draft charter on 31 July at Khon Kaen University. 
 
The six people comprise Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, the hunger-strike student activist from the pro-democracy Dao Din group; Chatmongkhon Chenchiaochan and Narongrit Upachan, student activists from Khon Kaen University; Duangthip Karnrit and Neeranuch Niemsub, staff from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR); and Natthaphon Athan a local activist from the New Isaan Movement. 
 
This is the first time that authorities have ever pressed charges against those merely observing an anti-junta seminar. Duangthip and Neeranuch were at the 31 July seminar to observe and record human rights violations. However, they were accused of the same offence as the event’s organizers. 
 
Before meeting the police, the six read a statement in front of the police station condemning the junta regime and urging the public to rise against it. 
 
“Freedom of expression is reserved only for those who support the dictatorship. Those who think differently are branded as criminals, forced to escape or detained. Therefore, we are not appealing to the dictator. We’re urging the public to come out together to create a free and fair society,” Chatmongkhon read.
 
The statement called upon the junta to abolish laws and regulations prohibiting freedom of expression, to end all prosecutions against the junta’s critics and to stop trying people in military courts.  
 
 

Chatmongkhon reads the statement in front of Mueang District Police Station while the others do the bird hand sign, symbolizing freedom of expression.