On 25 April, Tanee Saengrat, Director-General of the Department of Information in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), announced that a police request to deny a passport to Pannika Wanich, a former executive of the now-defunct Future Forward Party (FFP), was invalid and not in accordance with ministry regulations.
The revoked Phya Thai police station request to revoke Pannika's passport along with Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit issued.
According to press reports issued by Prachachat and the STANDARD, Tanee stated that the revocation of passports or rejection of passport applications must be line with the ministry’s 2005 (B.E.2548) regulations on passport issue, which consider whether:
- the individual is owning a passport or not,
- the Court, administrative officers or the police have informed the ministry that the individual should not be granted a passport because he/she is being punished in a criminal case, has been temporarily released, or is the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant,
- the Court or other responsible officers have ordered that the individual be banned from travelling abroad.
As for the revocation request from Phya Thai police station, Ministry officials considered the order and found that it was not in keeping with the above guidelines. As a result, Pannika’s name was moved to a list that requires issuing officers to check with responsible authorities, in this case the Phaya Thai police station, about the status of the applicant.
On 22 April, the Phya Thai police station also submitted a letter to the MoFA asking that their earlier request be rescinded, allowing Pannika to be issued with a passport.
It is unclear whether police requests to impose travel bans on former FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, the FFP’s former secretary-general, have been rescinded as well.
On 20 April 2022, Pannika, an executive member of the Progressive Movement, a group established by former FFP members, applied for a new passport at a temporary passport office in the MBK shopping centre only to have her request denied.
Checking with the Consular Affairs Department, she found that the rejection stemmed from an order issued on 19 April 2021 at the Phayathai Police Station requesting that her passport and the passports of Thanathorn and Piyabutr be revoked as they have been accused of committing crimes under Section 116 of the Criminal Code, widely known as Sedition Act.
A sedition complaint was lodged against the three by Suwit Thongprasert, previously known as Buddha Issara, a former monk who played a major role in the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), an anti-government movement that set the stage for the 2014 coup. Their alleged offences date to their time with the Future Forward Party. An indictment hearing is scheduled for 19 May 2022.
Pannika went to Phya Thai police station on 21 April to discuss the matter with Lt Col Baramee Wong-inta, a vice superintendent of investigation who issued the revocation request on behalf of the station superintendent.
According to Pannika, the police also stated that the letter sent to the Consular Affairs Department simply asked for cooperation, leaving the decision to grant a passport up to the Department Director. She was also told that the request would be withdrawn by noon on 21 April.
Section 116 contains legal provisions which prohibit individuals from unconstitutionally calling for a change of law, causing unrest and disaffection among the public, or causing people to violate the law. Those found guilty can face up to 7 years of imprisonment.
In recent years, Section 116 provisions have often been invoked in conjunction with Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lèse majesté law, another security-related statute. Both have been broadly interpreted, raised concerns among international rights bodies that the laws are being used to constrain freedom of expression.
Pannika is not the first person to face difficulties in obtaining a passport. In November 2021, the Samranrat Police Station asked the Department of Consular Affairs to revoke the passports of 13 people charged with sedition for their involvement in pro-democracy rallies.
In August 2021, a confidential ‘watchlist’ compiled by the Immigration Bureau was leaked to the media. It contained the names and personal details of 183 activists, human rights lawyers, academics, Move Forward Party members and individuals involved with the dissolved Future Forward Party.
The names of Thanathorn, Pannika, and Piyabutr were on the watchlist, begging the question of whether the rest of those listed could face a similar ban in the future.
On 1 February of this year, Ravisara Eksgool, who was awarded a scholarship to study overseas, posted on Facebook that her request for a new passport had been denied, reportedly because the case against her was a matter of national security.
Ravisara is one of 13 people indicted on lèse majesté and sedition charges for participating in a protest in front of the German Embassy in Bangkok on 26 October 2020.
She was eventually able to take up her scholarship and is now studying her Master Degree in Germany, but it took 7 requests before the court agreed that she was not a flight risk.
Sainam (pseudonym), an underage youth charged with royal defamation for attending a ‘fashion show’ protest, was reportedly denied a passport as well. On 28 January 2020, he went to the show wearing a crop top. A message painted on his exposed belly stated that King Vajiralongkorn was not his father.