Two Burapha University students have been charged with royal defamation for hanging a banner containing a message about the monarchy from their dorm room balcony.
Watchara (last name withheld), 19, was arrested on Saturday (23 October) at his dorm on an arrest warrant issued by the Chonburi Provincial Court. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), he never received a summons before being arrested.
TLHR also reported that, according to the police report of the arrest, the police were told where Watchara lived by an informant who wanted a reward for assisting in his arrest. Acting on the information, the police arrested Watchara in front of his residence on Saturday afternoon (23 October). He was taken to Saensuk Police Station and held there overnight.
On Sunday (24 October), his roommate Wirachat (last name withheld), who was informed that an arrest warrant had also been issued for him, reported to the police. The inquiry officer informed both students that they were charged with royal defamation under Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code for hanging a banner with an “inappropriate message” from their dorm room balcony. The inquiry officer also attempted to take DNA samples from both students, but their lawyer declined the request as there is no reason to do so in this case.
When Wirachat went to report to the police, a group of students came to show their support and were holding banners saying “Feudalism shall fall; the people shall prosper” and other messages demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government, access to Covid-19 vaccines, repeal of Section 112, and monarchy reform.
A police officer attempted to stop them from showing the banners, but the students insisted on continuing their activities, saying that the messages are not illegal and that if the officer wanted them to stop, he had to tell them which law the messages violated. Another group of students also poured dog food in front of a group of police officers.
The two students were held at Saensuk Police Station for one more night, before being taken to court for a temporary detention request the next morning. The inquiry officer claimed that the police still needed the testimony of 6 other witnesses, and opposed to bail on the grounds that the charge has a severe penalty and is related to national security.
The students were later granted bail using a security of 150,000 baht each, which was covered by the Will of the People Fund, a bail fund for those facing charges for political expression. The court also set them the condition that they do not repeat their offense.
Previously, on 13 October 2021, Watchara and Wirachat, along with another student, were taken to Saensuk Police Station after they hung the banner from their balcony on the evening of 12 October 2021. They were questioned without a lawyer present before being released without being charged.
According to TLHR, at least 153 people are facing royal defamation charges in 157 cases since 24 November 2020, of which at least 38 cases are related to forms of expression that are not speech, such as hanging banners or displaying printed material or stickers, while 72 cases relate to opinions expressed on social media.
Several protest leaders are also facing multiple counts of the charge, including Parit Chiwarak, who is facing 21 counts; Anon Nampa, 14 counts; Panupong Jadnok, 9 counts; Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, 8 counts; and Benja Apan, 6 counts.
Five people are currently detained pending trial on royal defamation charges: Parit Chiwarak, Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, Anon Nampa, Panupong Jadnok, and Benja Apan.