Prachatai journalist, 4 activists refuse to plead guilty

A Prachatai journalist and four pro-democracy activists who were indicted for distributing leaflets against the junta-backed draft charter, have insisted on fighting their case for the cause of freedom of expression.
 
On 21 September 2016, Ratchaburi Provincial Court held a conciliation session in the case of Taweesak Kerdpoka, a Prachatai journalist, and four anti-junta activists. They were charged under Article 61 of the Referendum Act despite the fact that they did not distribute any relevant material.
 
The court suggested that the five defendants plead guilty, but they refused. The five insisted on fighting the case and affirmed that they were exercising their right to freedom of expression and did not in any way violate the controversial Referendum Act. The defendants also asked the prosecutor to withdraw all charges against them.
 
Apart from Taweesak, the others are three anti-junta activists from the New Democracy Movement (NDM), Pakorn Areekul, Anucha Rungmorakot and Anan Loked; and a student activist from Maejo University, Phanuwat Songsawadchai. 
 
If found guilty, the five face prison terms of up to 10 years, a fine of up to 200,000 baht and loss of electoral rights for five years. 
 
Taweesak was present at Ratchaburi on 10 July to report on another event where 18 villagers from Ratchaburi reported to the police over their participation in a gathering deemed illegal under the junta’s assembly ban. The other four activists had travelled to the police station to give moral support to the villagers. When they were about to leave, their car was searched by police officers.
 
The police detained Taweesak and the four activists after they found copies of a booklet containing information on the draft constitution counter to that of the Thai junta. They were released on bail the next day 140,000 baht surety each.
 
 
The five defendants spoke to the media at Ratchaburi Provincial Court. (From left to right) Phanuwat Songsawadchai, Anucha Rungmorakot, Pakorn Areekul, Taweesak Kerdpoka and Anan Loked.