The Ratchadaphisek Court sign smeared with paints in the protest on 2 May 2020.

Contempt of court prosecutions increased in 2021, says TLHR

According to a Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) report, at least 18 people in 14 cases have been charged under controversial contempt of court provisions in 2021. 14 arose in connection with protests calling for the right to bail of detained activists.

The word "Criminal Court" in the Ratchadaphisek Court sign sprayed with red paint as protesters express anger toward the court's decision in rejecting bail to the detained activists. (File photo) 

In addition, at least 24 people have been charged in 4 cases for insulting the court since 18 July 2020 which marked the beginning of a surge in pro-democracy protests.

In comparison, only 9 cases of contempt of court involving 20 people were reported in the 5 years from February 2014 to August 2018.

Sections 30-33 of the Civil Procedure Code define refusal to comply with a court order as contempt of court. Contempt of court offences also include publication of news or public expression that causes disorder in a trial, misleads the public about a trial or tempts people to give false evidence or testimony. The punishment ranges from expulsion from the court precincts to a fine of no more than 500 baht or jail sentence of no more than 6 months.

Section 198 of the Criminal Code provides that those who insult or obstruct the court or the judge in a trial shall be punished a jail sentence of 1-7 year, or a fine of 20,000-140,000 baht or both.

The laws have been criticized by human rights groups since some cases have involved activists who engaged in political activity against the government or the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta. 

Since July 2020, activities like giving speeches in front of the court, taking photographs inside the courtroom during a hearing, and holding protests in front of the court have been judged as a violation of the statutes.

Activist Benja Apan scattering pieces of paper printed with names of people who signed the open letter on the steps to the Criminal Court building.

A case that caught the public’s attention was the reading of a statement by Parit Chiwarak in the courtroom on 15 March 2021, criticizing the court for not granting the right to bail and declaring the start of his 57 days of hunger strike.

Charges of contempt of court have also been brought against a defence lawyer who argued with the public prosecutor and another who nudged the shoulder of a Department of Corrections official in the courtroom.

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