Four monarchy reform activists denied bail; protest at court demands activists’ release

Four monarchy reform activists were again denied bail on 20 May, including Tantawan Tuatulanon, who has been on a hunger strike for the past 32 days to demand the right to bail, while a protest caravan visited the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court and the Bangkok Remand Prison to demand the release of 11 detained activists.

Tantawan Tuatulanon

The Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court on 20 May again denied bail to monarchy reform activist Tantawan Tuatulanon, who is currently held in pre-trial detention on a royal defamation charge and has been on a hunger strike for the past 30 days to demand the right to bail for detained activists.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that the public prosecutor requested the Court to continue detaining Tantawan for another 7 days, claiming that her case has to be forwarded to the Attorney General Commission to see whether she should be indicted and that this is standard procedure for royal defamation cases.

The Court subsequently approved the request, and scheduled a bail hearing for Tantawan on 26 May after Move Forward Party MP Pita Limjaroenrat posted bail for her using his MP status as security. The order was signed by judge Parit Piyanaratorn, Deputy Chief Justice of the Criminal Court.

Pita Limjaroenrat

Pita previously submitted a bail request for Tantawan on Tuesday 17 May, but his request was denied after the Court claimed that he did not submit a pay slip, even though he submitted a certifying letter from the Secretariat of the House of Representatives, which stated the amount of his salary as an MP.

He said today after filing a bail request for Tantawan that, according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), anyone accused of breaking the law should be presumed to be innocent until they are tried and found guilty. He is also concerned about her health as she has been on a hunger strike for 30 days.

He also said that he was informed that his previous bail request was denied due to a documentation error. He said that he is not so naïve that he wouldn’t know the difference between a pay slip and a salary certification letter, but he believes that the difference is not a significant issue, that he was told by his lawyers that he may submit these documents, and that the matter of Tantawan’s health is more important than documents.

Pita said that the Move Forward Party has a list of activists currently in detention and that its MPs will be posting bail for them. The Party will also propose an amendment to the royal defamation law, but he is not sure when the proposal will go before parliament.

Tantawan, 20, was charged with royal defamation, resisting officers, and violation of the Computer Crimes Act for live broadcasting before a royal motorcade on 5 March, during which she questioned the priorities of the police and the King as farmers protesting in the area at the time were forced to move to clear the route.

She was detained at the Narcotics Suppression Bureau located inside the Police Club from 5 March to 7 March when she was granted bail on a 100,000-baht security on the conditions that she must not repeat her offense or participate in activities which damage the monarchy, and must wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

She was also charged with royal defamation and sedition for conducting a poll on royal motorcades at Siam Paragon on 8 February 2022.

The Court revoked Tantawan’s bail on 20 April, claiming she had broken her bail conditions by going near a royal motorcade and posting about the monarchy on Facebook. She has been held in pre-trial detention at the Women’s Central Correctional Institution for the past 30 days and has been on a hunger strike throughout her detention to demand the right to bail for detained activists, raising concerns that her condition will deteriorate further if she continues to be detained.

According to TLHR, Tantawan has lost 4 kg, is severely fatigued, and has fainted several times a day. She has not been taking anything but milk and water, and has told her lawyers that she will drink only water until she is released if she is not granted bail this time.

Three other activists denied bail

Sopon Surariddhidhamrong

Three other monarchy reform activists currently in pre-trial detention on royal defamation charges were also denied bail on 20 May.

The police requested the court today to detain activist Sopon Surariddhidhamrong for 12 more days, claiming that they are still processing evidence in the case and have to interview another witness, even though they admitted that Sopon would not be able to tamper with the evidence and that the last time the Court approved a detention request for Sopon, the judge said that it would be the last time.

Nevertheless, the Court approved the request and ordered Sopon to be detained for another 7 days. His lawyers filed a bail request, which was subsequently denied on the ground that there is no cause to change existing court order. The order was signed by judge Parit Piyanaratorn.

Sopon, a 23-year-old radiological technology student, was arrested while he was leaving a Labour Day event in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. He was charged with royal defamation and using a sound amplifier without permission for a speech he gave during a protest march in the Ratchadamnoen area on 22 April 2022. Anon Klinkaew, a member of the ultra-royalist group People’s Centre to Protect the Monarchy who filed the complaint against Sopon, said the speech defamed Queen Suthida.

Sopon is facing two other royal defamation charges; one is for a speech given at the Chakri Memorial Day protest on 6 April 2022 and another for a speech given during a Labour Day rally in front of Government House on 1 May. He is also on a hunger strike to demand the right to bail and has been for 16 days.

Netiporn (left) and Baipor (right)

Meanwhile, the South Bangkok Criminal Court denied bail again for Baipor and Netiporn, two activists from the monarchy reform activist group Thaluwang. The order was signed by Manas Phakphuwadol, Research Justice of the Supreme Court, serving temporarily as Deputy Chief Justice of the South Bangkok Criminal Court, and made on the grounds that the two have previously broken their bail conditions and that they are likely to commit other offense if released. 

According to TLHR, Baipor, who is currently a 1st year student at the Puey Ungphakorn School of Development Studies, Thammasat University, is likely to be expelled from university if she continues to be detained, since she will miss 4 of her final examinations, which will cause her GPA to fall below the university’s requirement to remain enrolled. Keeping her in detention would therefore be an excessive deprivation of her rights and destructive to her future in a situation where she has not been judged guilty, and if she is found to be innocent, the court will not be able to remedy the damage to her education.

Meanwhile, the bail request for Netiporn said that her mother has a heart condition, and that Netiporn and her sister are responsible for paying for their mother’s medical treatment, since their parents are separated. Keeping Netiporn in detention would therefore mean that the family will struggle to cover their mother’s medical expenses. Netiporn herself is also at risk of developing a tumour in her uterus and has been prescribed hormonal therapy by a doctor at Ramathibodi Hospital. Being in detention and not being able to see a doctor would increase the risk to her health.

Baipor and Netiporn have been charged with royal defamation, sedition, and refusing to comply with an officer’s order after they conducted a poll on royal motorcades at Siam Paragon shopping mall on 8 February 2022. They were arrested on 28 April 2022 along with activist Supitcha Chailom and charged with royal defamation for conducting a poll on whether people agree with the government allowing the King to use his powers as he pleases.

In addition to the above charges, Baipor was arrested on 22 April 2022 and charged with royal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act for sharing a Facebook post about the monarchy budget.

They have been detained since 3 May when their bail was revoked by the South Bangkok Criminal Court, which claimed that they violated their bail conditions by causing public disorder by participating in another poll on land expropriation on 13 March 2022 at the Victory Monument, during which a small altercation took place between Thaluwang supporters and members of a royalist group gathering nearby.

Protest at court and prison demand the right to bail

The caravan taking off from the Democracy Monument (Photo by Chanakarn Laosarakham/iLaw)

To demand the right to bail for detained activists, the activist network Citizens for the Abolition of 112, which has been campaigning for the release of detained activists and the repeal of the royal defamation law, staged a ‘car mob’ protest. A caravan of cars and motorcycles carrying white flags saying “free our friends” and pictures of detained activists drove from the Democracy Monument to the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court, and then to the Bangkok Remand Prison.

Activist Somyot Pruksakasemsuk said before the caravan took off from the Democracy Monument that the royal defamation law is being used to destroy democracy and human rights, and that activists like Tantawan are being denied the right to bail.

He noted that the 11 activists currently detained are still presumed to be innocent and are fighting for the people’s rights and freedoms, and questioned whether the courts are exercising their power for justice or the protection of the people.

In front of the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court, protesters hung a banner saying “Free political prisoners, repeal Section 112” from an overpass in front of the Court and scattered papers containing various messages from the overpass. Representatives of the network then submitted a petition to the Criminal Court calling for the right to bail for detained activists.

The petition said that the right to bail is a fundamental right and stemmed from the principle of presumption of innocence, which is the most basic principle in criminal proceedings, and that denying or revoking bail on the grounds that a defendant is going to commit another offense or cause public disorder is not in accordance with legal principles.

The petition noted that the detained activists’ actions were an exercise of their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to deny them bail on the grounds that they are likely to repeat their offense or cause danger is not in line with the fact that their actions are not dangerous. The courts also have other means to use in place of detention, such as requiring a defendant to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, and activists who were detained on the grounds that they are a flight risk have never tried to flee.

Activists scattering paper from an overpass in front of the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court (Photo by Chanakarn Laosarakham/iLaw)

Somyot said after the petition was submitted that he is concerned about Tantawan, and asked why she was charged with royal defamation for conducting public polls. He said that defendants in cases relating to political expression should be granted bail and that the 11 detained activists should be released.

Labour rights activist Sripai Nonsi said that the detained activists did nothing wrong and that they were only asking questions about someone who is using taxpayers’ money.

“The world today has progressed so far that there is nothing you can hide. The court itself should consider and reflect upon itself how it could do its job well. I ask the court to have some dignity and consider the cases fairly, and I ask it to return our country’s future to society,” Sripai said.

The caravan then moved to the Bangkok Remand Prison, where protesters tied yellow and black ribbons, as well as flags containing images of detained activists to the razor wire barricade in front of the prison entrance.

Another group of activists also went to the Supreme Court on the morning of 20 May to submit a petition to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to demand that the detained activists be granted bail.

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