14 villagers face charges for supporting We Walk

The police and military have summoned 11 villagers in Phayao during the night and later accused them of violating the junta’s ban on public gatherings. The villagers were prosecuted after holding a rally in support of the civil rights march from Bangkok to Khon Kaen. 
 
On 6 February 2018, the police accused 14 villagers in Phayao of violating the Head of National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order 3/ 2015, the junta’s ban on public gatherings of five people or more. The authorities filed charges against the villagers for expressing support for We Walk, Walk for Friendship, the march for civil rights from Bangkok to Khon Kaen.
 
If found guilty, they will face up to six months in prison and fines of up to 10,000 baht.
 
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a day earlier the villagers held a minor activity to show solidarity with the We Walk march. They walked for 500 meters and read a statement calling for land reform, community rights and progressive taxation.
 
Later in the night, the authorities summoned 11 participants at the rally to Phu Sang Police Station and interrogated them until morning. There was no defence lawyer throughout the interrogation.
 
At around 3 am, police officers told the villagers that they would be accused of violating the junta’s order, adding that the authorities will issue a summons for three other participants who did not show up at the police station. The youngest suspect is only 16 years old and has a mental disability, reported TLHR. 
 
At 9.30 am, the police took 10 villagers, excluding the youngest one, to Chiang Kham Provincial Court to seek permission to detain them in custody. The villagers denied all accusations and the court released them on bail with 5,000 baht as surety for each. 
 
The 10 include seven members of the Northern Peasants Federation, Saeng Sopbong, Wanlop Phandi, Prayun Yamongkhon, Nom Karanoi, Nan Chatunam, Choen Daengmani and Bunyuen Saengkaeo; and four student activists from Chiang Rai, Somchai Kuwiwatthanasakun, Kanthima Mongkhondi and Worasathit Buadaeng. 
 
The police also issued summonses for three other villagers, Amphon Somrit, Phon Khankhachi and Kaeo Unpo, who failed to show up at the police station the previous night.
 
The We Walk march kicked off at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus on 20 January with four main issues: the right to universal health care, the rights of farmers, community and environmental rights, and the Constitution. 
 
Since the beginning, the rally has faced repeated obstruction by the police and military. On the first day, the authorities blocked the activists from exiting Thammasat University, claiming the march violated the junta’s ban on public gatherings of five people or more. The protesters then divided into groups of four people and marched from the university group by group.
 
Previously, the administrative court ruled to guarantee the right to freedom of assembly of the We Walk march and ordered the authorities not to obstruct the activity, but the intimidation remains. Eight organisers of the march are also facing prosecution for violating the junta’s ban on public assembly.
 
 
Police officers and soldiers interrogate the villagers (Photo from TLHR)
 
 
Villagers hold a rally in support of We Walk (Photo from TLHR)