Human rights defenders plead not guilty at Khon Kaen military court

The Military Court in Khon Kaen has begun trying two members of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) merely for observing a public seminar that discussed the junta’s constitution. They pleaded not guilty and vowed to fight the case. 
 
On 21 December 2017, Khon Kaen Military Court held the first court hearing in a case where six pro-democracy activists and two human right defenders were charged for breaching the junta’s ban on public gatherings of five people or more (Order of the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) 3/2015). 
 
Khon Kaen police charged the eight with participating in a public discussion on the NCPO’s 2017 constitution titled ‘Talk for Freedom’ at Khon Kaen University on 31 July 2016.
 
The six activists are Jatupat ‘Pai’ Boonpattaraksa, Chatmongkhon Chanchiawchan, Phanuphong Sithananuwat, Chatthai Noi-unsaen, Nattaporn Artharn and Narongrit Uppachan. The two TLHR staff are Duangthip Khanrit and Niranut Niamsap.
 
All defendants pleaded not guilty. They stated that their actions could not constitute a breach of the junta’s order because the seminar did not cause any public disorder. They added that the TLHR staff were not the organisers of the event, but rather human rights defenders who came to observe. 
 
The next hearing for depositions is scheduled on 23 March 2018.
 
This is the first case under the NCPO regime where the authorities have pressed charges against human rights defenders for merely monitoring an anti-junta activity.
 
On 3 July 2017, police from Mueang District Police Station in Khon Kaen issued summons for 11 people who joined the ‘Talk for Freedom’ seminar, but decided to prosecute only eight. 
 
Two of the remaining three chose to undergo the military’s ‘attitude adjustment’ in exchange for an end to their prosecution. The final person summoned, the well-known student activist Rangsiman Rome, refused to report to the police, reasoning that the junta’s order is unlawful.
 
 
Security officers disrupted the seminar on 31 July 2016 (Photo from TLHR)