A court in Ratchaburi has acquitted a Prachatai journalist and four activists of violating the Referendum Act. The journalist faced charges for merely reporting on the anti-referendum campaign.
On 29 January 2018, the Ratchaburi Provincial Court acquitted Prachatai journalist Taweesak Kerdpoka and the other four activists from the New Democracy Movement. They were accused of distributing stickers persuading people to reject the junta’s constitution in the 2016 referendum.
The four activists are Pakorn Areekul, Anucha Rungmorakot, Phanuwat Songsawadchai and Anan Loked.
The court ruled that evidence showed only that the defendants possessed the stickers and shared a similar political belief, but failed to prove that they distributed the stickers to the public. However, the verdict disregards the fact that Taweesak is a journalist, not an activist like the others.
On 10 July 2016, approximately one month before the referendum on the current constitution, three activists, Pakorn Areekul, Anan Loked and Anucha Rungmorakot, visited villagers who had been summoned by the court.
The villagers were accused of violating the junta’s ban on political gatherings of five or more persons after opening a referendum monitoring centre in Ban Pong District, Ratchaburi Province. Taweesak Kerdpoka, a Prachatai journalist, travelled in Pakorn’s car together with Anan and Anucha to report on the event.
The prosecution arose from a search of Pakorn’s car by officers from Ban Pong Police Station. The police found documents opposing the draft constitution, ‘Vote No’ stickers and leaflets belonging to the Election Commission of Thailand in the trunk. The police arrested the four on a charge of disseminating documents aimed at inducing people to vote in a particular way in the referendum, an offence under Article 61 of the Public Referendum Act.
Later on the same day, the police arrested the fifth defendant, Phanuwat Songsawadchai and accused him of holding an event at the opening of a referendum monitoring centre. He had the same charges filed against him as the four other accused.
On 12 July 2016, police arrived at the Prachatai office with a search warrant to look for and confiscate anything related to “vote no” campaigns, but nothing was found.