Red shirts face 7 years over Lanna separatist banners

Three elderly red shirts face seven years’ imprisonment for allegedly putting up banners calling for the separation of the northern region from Thailand.   

On 30 October 2017, Chiang Rai Provincial Court held the preliminary hearing for Ot Suktako, 66, who was indicted under Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

He was charged for putting up banners with the message ‘This country has no justice; I want to be separate in the country of Lanna’ on a public footbridge in Mae Lao District on 28 February 2014. Lanna (translated as ‘[Land of a] Million Rice Fields) refers to a former kingdom in what is today northern Thailand which was annexed to Siam (present day Thailand) in 1920.   

The banner was put on display after People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters obstructed advanced voting in the general election on 2 February 2014 by blocking election venues in Bangkok and other provinces.

The police arrested Ot in June when he was released on 200,000 baht bail. Ot denied the accusation, saying that he was not involved in making or putting up the banners.

Two other suspects are facing similar accusations. Thanomsi Namrat, 56, and Suksayam Chomthan, 65, reported to the police in August and were detained for four days before their families could post bail for them.

The three are anti-establishment red-shirt members of Mae Suai Loves Democracy, the local red-shirt group.  

The court has scheduled witness hearings for Ot on 26-29 June and 3 July 2018 while the preliminary hearing for the two other suspects will be held on 15 January 2018.

The three were also accused of similar charges over the banners in two separate cases which were filed in different courts.

In one case, the Chiang Rai Provincial Court sentenced them in July 2015 to four years’ imprisonment each for putting up a banner in front of a shopping mall in Chiang Rai on 26 February 2014. The jail term, however, was reduced to three years and was suspended for five years.

In another case, they were charged with sedition for putting up a banner on a footbridge in front of a public school in Phayao Province. The case is still ongoing at Phayao Provincial Court.

Article 116 of the Criminal Code states that whoever makes apparent to the public by words, writing or any other means anything which is not an act within the purpose of the constitution or which is not the expression of an honest opinion or criticism (a) in order to bring about a change in the laws or the government by the use of coercion or violence, (b) in order to raise confusion or disaffection amongst the people to the point of causing unrest in the kingdom, or (c) have people violate the law, shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding seven years.

Ot Suktako, 66 (Photo from the TLHR)

The banner with the message ‘This country is unjust, I want to be separated to be Lanna country’ (Photo from the Manager Online)