Court refuses to free human rights lawyer accused of royal defamation

The Criminal Court has for the sixth time refused to release a human rights lawyer facing up to 50 years in prison for royal defamation and sedition.

On 26 June 2017, the Bangkok Criminal Court renewed the pre-trial detention period for Prawais Prapanugool, a human rights lawyer accused of violating Articles 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law and the sedition law.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) submitted a request to the court to end pre-trial custody, arguing that the interrogation process is already complete. There is no reason to prolong detention, particularly as it could affect suspect’s ability to fight the case.

Prawais also argued that his detention violates Article 29 of the 2017 Constitution, which states the principle that suspects of crimes have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The court, however, gave favour to the police claim that there is one more witness to be questioned and that Prawais might interfere with the evidence if released.

The court ordered that the investigating officers had finished summarizing the case file but it was necessary to extend the matter to submit an opinion on the case to their superiors in the Royal Thai Police (RTP) for further orders and an RTP committee to consider security cases is still to be set up, which is underway, so it is necessary to detain him for 12 more days from 28 June to 9 July 2017. 

Prawais was one of six people arrested by police and military officers on 29 April 2017 before being taken to the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok. He has remained in custody since.   

The arrested are accused of lèse majesté and violations of the Computer Crime Act for sharing a Facebook post about the missing 1932 revolution plaque by Somsak Jeamteerasakul, an academic currently living in self-imposed exile in France.

According to TLHR, Prawais allegedly posted Facebook comments asserting that Thailand should become a republic.

The maximum penalties for Prawais for all counts of lèse majesté and sedition add up to 171 years as he is accused of 10 counts of lèse majesté and three counts under the sedition law.

Under Thailand’s Criminal Code, however, the maximum total jail term other than life imprisonment is 50 years.

Prawet Praphanukul, a human rights lawyer