The veteran politician Chaturon Chaisang has finally been acquitted of sedition after a legal fight that lasted 6 years, 6 months and 26 days.
He was charged under Section 116 of the Criminal Code and Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act after holding a press conference in English in defiance of the military coup in May 2014 at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok.
Invoking the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Thailand is a party, the Court said that Chaturon, like all other citizens, has the right to hold a press conference and to freedom of verbal expression.
The Court also said that after his speech calling for people to express their views peacefully and for the junta to hold an election, there were no clear cases of people going out to cause chaos and social unrest. So he was found not guilty under Section 116.
The Court also said his electronic devices had been taken by the military and he was in detention at the time the authorities claimed that he posted a seditious statement on Facebook. He was therefore also found not guilty under the Computer Crime Act.
Chaturon Chaisang is a former Pheu Thai Party MP, a former Education Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and was the strategic head of the dissolved Thai Raksa Chart Party. He was the first civilian to be tried in a military court for defying the putschists in 2014. However, after political pressure from various groups to hold an election, the junta loosened its grip and transferred the case to the civilian courts.
Chaturon posted on Facebook asking that the authorities “stop using the law as a tool to harass and silence the people.” After the court verdict, there are two things he wants to do.
First, he will ask the Office of the Attorney General not to appeal the case to the Court of Appeal and to come up with guidelines for cases transferred from the military courts.
Second, Chaturon will also request the legislature to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure so that the authorities can no longer use the security laws arbitrarily to suppress people’s rights.
In 2017, iLaw reported that 26 cases had been brought against 66 individuals under Section 116 after the military coup in 2014.
During the recent pro-democracy protests in Thailand, from 18 July to 7 December, the authorities reportedly filed at least 220 charges against protesters using the sedition law (Section 116), the Computer Crime Act, and the lèse-majesté law (Section 112).