Calling for election not illegal, says Court

On Christmas day, the Criminal Court dismissed all charges against 9 activists who called for an election in front of the MBK department store in January 2018.

The 9 activists include Veera Somkwamkid, Rangsiman Rome, Sirawith Seritiwat, Nuttaa Mahattana, Anon Nampa, Ekkachai Hongkangwan, Sukrit Piansuwan, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, and Sombat Boonngamanong.

On 27 January 2018, the defendants held a protest on the BTS Skywalk in front of the MBK department store calling for an election after the military junta had delayed it for the 5th time until February 2019. The 39 participants who faced police charges were also known as MBK39, a parody of the name of the famous girl band BNK48. 

Col (now Maj Gen) Burin Thongprapai, the legal officer of the military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), charged the 9 with violating the sedition law (Section 116). He also claimed that the activists held a political gathering of more than 5 people in violation of an NCPO order, and held a protest within 150 metres of a royal area in violation of the 2015 Public Assembly Law.

The Court ruled that calling for an election is a constitutional right and does not constitute sedition. The Court also said that the activists were not informed that they were holding a protest within the designated distance of Sra Pathum Palace. The police measured the distance only after the protesters ended the demonstration.

Ahead of the 2019 election, the military government lifted the NCPO order prohibiting a political gathering of more than 5 people in December 2018, so the Court disposed of that charge. Thus, the activists were acquitted of all charges.

The MBK protest was one of many protests calling for the junta to hold a repeatedly promised election. In February 2018, Thai activists in Pinocchio masks gathered at Thammasat University criticizing the Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as a “liar”. Protests calling for an election were also held in Chiang Mai and Chonburi, where participants also faced similar charges. 

Even then, the military government delayed the election for a 6th time, claiming that the election day would conflict with the coronation ceremony. Thanks to pressure from civil society, a questionable election was eventually held in March 2019. It was won by NCPO-allied parties who voted for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to continue as Prime Minister.

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