Student activist granted bail after 99 days in prison

Student activist Benja Apan was granted bail today (14 January) by the South Bangkok Criminal Court after spending 99 days in prison and having been previously repeatedly denied bail.

Benja Apan

Benja has been detained pending trial since October 2021 on royal defamation charges relating to the protest in front of the German Embassy in Bangkok on 26 October 2020 and the 10 August 2021 protest, during which she red out the second United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration Declaration, stating that the 2014 coup led by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has led to a regime which benefited only the elite. The statement also criticised the government’s mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic and called for the government to properly handle the pandemic, revitalise the economy, repeal the 2017 Constitution which allows the junta government to prolong its stay in power, push forward reforms in state structures and the monarchy, and also return to the people their dignity.

Benja was arrested on 7 October 2021 after she went to meet the inquiry officer at Lumpini Police Station to hear a charge of violating the Emergency Decree for participating in the 3 September protest at the Ratchaprasong intersection. The police then found that there was an outstanding arrest warrant issued against her on a royal defamation charge under Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, as well as charges for violations of the Emergency Decree and the Communicable Diseases Act, for participating in the 10 August 2021 protest. However, she did not receive a summons before being arrested. She was taken to court on 8 October 2021 and was denied bail.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that Benja’s lawyer requested bail for her yesterday (13 January) on the grounds that Benja is currently a student at the Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology (SIIT), Thammasat University, and is enrolled in three classes for the current semester. She is therefore required to attend classes, complete class projects, and take examinations, and since her engineering degree requires several practical classes, she will not be able to take classes while in prison. For example, she is enrolled in a solid mechanics class, which is compulsory for her mechanical engineering programme and requires 15 hours of practical training.

The request stated that Benja may not be able to graduate if she continues to be detained, which would severely affect her future and her right to education. The request also said that the court should consider the defendant’s rights and freedoms when considering a bail request and should not excessively restrict these.

Benja was also granted bail yesterday (13 January) on a contempt of court charge relating to a protest at the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court on 29 April 2021 to demand the release of activists being detained pending trial, for which she was sentenced to 6 months in prison. The Criminal Court required a security of 50,000 baht but did not set any additional conditions.

The South Bangkok Criminal Court set the conditions that Benja must not participate in activities that could damage the monarchy or cause disorder in society. She is also prohibited from leaving the country and from leaving her residence between 18.00 – 6.00. She must also an electronic monitoring bracelet. The conditions set for Benja are the same as those set for student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, whose bail period was extended yesterday (13 January) until 25 May 2022.

The Court appointed Adisorn Juntrasook, lecturer from the Faculty of Learning Sciences and Education, Thammasat University, as Benja’s supervisor, and required a security of 100,000 baht per charge. TLHR said that, since Benja has no other outstanding arrest warrant, she will be released from the Central Women Correctional Institution this evening (14 January).

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