One activist released, one denied bail

Monarchy reform activist Tantawan Tuatulanon has been granted bail after spending over a month in pre-trial detention on royal defamation charges, while the Court once again denied bail for activist Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, also held in pre-trial detention on a royal defamation charge.

Tantawan leaving the Women Central Correctional Institution on Thursday evening (26 May)

After Tantawan’s lawyers and Move Forward Party MP Pita Limjaroenrat filed another bail request on 20 May, a bail hearing took place on the morning of 26 May. The Criminal Court subsequently ruled to grant Tantawan bail for a 1-month period using Pita’s MP position as security. She was released from the Women Central Correctional Institution in the evening.

This is the 4th time a bail request was filed for Tantawan. Her lawyers’ previous 4 requests and an appeal against her bail revocation order had all been denied.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that Tantawan was not brought to court and that her bail hearing was conducted via a teleconference system, even though her lawyers have asked that she be brought to court since the Criminal Court’s teleconference system has often been disrupted by technical issues, making it difficult for lawyers to communicate with the defendants.

TLHR also said that the public prosecutor decided on 25 May to indict Tantawan for royal defamation and violation of the Computer Crimes Act.

TLHR noted that, other than Pita and Tantawan’s parents, representatives of the US, German, and Swiss embassies came to the bail hearing. Activists Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Benja Apan, along with Sureerat Chiwarak, mother of activist Parit Chiwarak, and 15 other people also came to observe the hearing.

During the hearing, Pita declared to the court that he is willing to be appointed Tantawan’s supervisor and will make sure that she follows her bail conditions. He also said that Tantawan’s parents consented to having him be her supervisor.

Tantawan also told the court that she is willing to follow any condition the Court gives her, and that she will listen to Pita if he is appointed her supervisor. 

The Court requires her to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, and prohibited her from leaving her residence without court permission, unless for medical reasons. If she has to leave her residence for a medical emergency, she has to present a medical certificate to the court within 3 days. She is also not allowed to leave the country without court permission.

The Court also prohibited her from repeating her offense, or participating in activities which cause public disorder order or damage the monarchy. Pita was also appointed as her supervisor.

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.

To protest her detention and demand the right to bail for detained activists, Tantawan has been on a hunger strike for the past 37 days since her bail was revoked. She has taken nothing but milk and water, and has lost at least 4 KG of weight. TLHR reported on 24 May that Tantawan told her lawyer during their visit that she has low blood pressure, is severely fatigued, faints several times a day, and has bleeding in her gums.

Sopon Surariddhidhamrong

Meanwhile, the Criminal Court once again denied bail for activist Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, who has been held in pre-trial detention after 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.

The court said that there is no reason to change the existing court order, even though Sopon’s lawyers informed the court that he has to take his radiological technology license examination on 24 July 2022. If he misses the examination this year, he will have to wait until next year and will not be able to work as a radiological technologist until he is able to get his license.

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 is also 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.

Sopon has also been on a hunger strike for the past 22 days to demand the right to bail. He told his lawyer during their visit today (26 May) that he will now be eating one meal a day to stop people from asking him to eat. He said that a prison officer told him that he will be allowed to stay in the same section as now, but he has to start eating, and that other inmates also asked him to eat.

Sopon said that he has lost 4 KG of weight, and that he has nausea and stomach-ache. The prison doctor is seeing him once a week.

Sopon is one of 10 activists currently detained on charges relating to political expression. Of this number, 4 are detained on royal defamation charges while their cases are still at the inquiry level: Sopon, Baipor, Netiporn, and Weha Saenchonchanasuek.

His lawyers filed another bail request for him today (27 May), after the police requested to detain him for 7 more days. They proposed a 100,000-baht security and proposed that his father is appointed his supervisor. 

Sopon's father, who is a dentist, said during the hearing that Sopon should not miss his opportunity to take his license examination and be deprived of his chance to do good things for the country as a medical professional. His parents also said that Sopon has gotten a job at a hospital and was originally starting on 19 May, but he was in detention at the time and it is likely that the hospital has decided to hire someone else. He also has to take classes to prepare for his license examination.

The Court scheduled a bail hearing for him on 31 May, and summoned witnesses including Sopon's father and grandfather. 

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