After she resisted intimidation by the Thai military to stay silent, the life of Natthida “Waen” Meewangpa – a volunteer nurse who witnessed the shooting of civilians and unarmed supporters of protesting “Red Shirts” by soldiers during the 2010 political confrontations in Bangkok – has turned to hell.
Natthida’s nightmare began three years ago when the military appeared to get tired of her demanding justice for the 2010 bloodshed and arrested her on March 11, 2015. After six days of interrogation in secret incommunicado detention, during which she alleged being beaten and otherwise mistreated, Thailand’s ruling junta accused Natthida of criminal association and conspiring to commit terrorist acts related to a grenade attack at the Bangkok Criminal Court on March 7, 2015. If found guilty by a military tribunal, she faces up to 10 years in prison.
The junta made further efforts to keep Natthida behind bars by accusing her in 2017 of sharing a comment in the Line chat application that officials considered offensive to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thailand’s draconian lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) law carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
The junta has stonewalled questions from Natthida’s lawyers and human rights groups about this flimsy charge. It is unclear who actually posted the message in question, raising concerns that it may have been done to frame her. The message was allegedly shared on March 17, 2015, while Natthida was still in government custody and officials had confiscated her mobile phone. As in other lese majeste cases, Natthida’s bail requests have repeatedly been refused.
Trying civilians in military courts, which lack independence and do not comply with fair trial standards, violates international human rights law and has brought global criticism of the junta. Natthida’s case has become a glaring example of arbitrariness and injustice in Thailand’s justice system under military rule.
So long as Natthida remains locked up, there is little prospect of justice for the victims of one of Thailand’s bloodiest episodes. Worse still, soldiers and their commanders will have good reason to believe that next time around, they can again get away with murder.
Natthida “Waen” Meewangpa (Photo from Human Rights Watch)