On top of rising numbers of prosecutions under Thailand’s notorious lèse majesté law, the sedition law has also been used by the military regime to shut down critics since the 2014 coup d’état.
According to iLaw, a human rights advocacy group, from 22 May 2014 to 27 August 2017, at least 66 people have been arrested and charged under Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law, for various activities deemed threatening to national security. Allegations range from failing to report to the junta, mocking or criticising the regime, to merely showing symbolic support to anti-junta activists.
In the weeks leading up to the verdict on the rice-pledging scheme corruption case against Yingluck Shinawatra, Pheu Thai politicians Watana Muangsook and Pichai Naripthaphan and Pravit Rojanaphruk, a veteran journalist from Khaosod English, were accused of sedition over Facebook posts related to the case.
About a year earlier, eight people were arrested and indicted under Article 116 for being administrators of a satirical Facebook page mocking the junta leader called ‘We Love General Prayut’. Two of the eight were also later indicted for offences under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law.
The eight in front of the Bangkok Military Court on 23 August 2016
In two other peculiar cases, the police in July 2015 accused Baramee Chairat, a member of the board of Amnesty International Thailand, of sedition for paying a visit to 14 embattled youth activists. In October the same year, the authorities detained Preecha Kaewbanpaew, a 78-year-old retired teacher, until the Military Court of Bangkok released him on bail on a 150,000 baht bond. He was accused of sedition and violation of the junta’s ban on political gatherings for simply giving flowers to support an anti-junta activist during a political rally in March 2015 against the use of military courts to try civilians.
The number starkly contrasts with the small number of sedition cases before the coup. From 2010-22 May 2014, there were four reported sedition cases. The most famous was against 10 high-profile civil society workers who trespassed onto the grounds of parliament during a rally against the junta-appointed 2007 National Legislative Assembly (NLA).
Preecha Kaewbanpaew, a 78-year-old retired teacher
According to Yingcheep Atchanont, manager of iLaw and a human rights lawyer, people who express their opinions in an honest manner without any intention to contravene the constitution should not be prosecuted under the sedition law.
In brief, Article 116 states that anybody who expresses opinions by any means with an intention to incite violence and unrest, to change the law or the government, or to encourage people to violate the law shall be imprisoned for up to seven years.
Yingcheep points out that arrests for sedition tend to spike when the National Council for Peace and Order is being scrutinised by the public, such as when the junta was criticised over the Rajabhakti Park corruption scandal.
One woman who requested anonymity was accused of sedition after she posted on her Facebook account that the Rajabhakti Park scandal reflected an internal conflict in the ruling junta, although the prosecutor later dropped the charge. Several democracy activists were also indicted for defying the Thai junta’s ban on political gatherings for organising a field trip to Rajabhakti Park on 7 December 2015.
Yingcheep concludes that the frequency with which the sedition law has been used since the coup has created an environment of fear where people restrain themselves from voicing criticism against the regime.
It is difficult for those accused of sedition to successfully request bail since the crime is related to national security, and because bail surety requires at least 70,000 baht. In cases tried by military courts, the accused are particularly unlikely to receive a fair trial.
The eight junta critics accused of sedition during a press briefing at the Crime Suppression Division on 28 April 2016 (file photo)