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From left: Netiporn and Nutthanit

Open letter underlines constitutional rights of detained pollsters

An open letter from University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Tyrell Haberkorn, and Emeritus Professor Thongchai Winichakul to the Southern Criminal Court, reminding the need to uphold the presumption of innocence and freedom of expression, regarding the detention of two monarchy reform activists who are currently going on a hunger strike.

Nutthanit or Baipor (surnames witheld) and Netiporn Sanesangkhom are both monarchy reform activists from the activist group Thaluwang and have been held in pre-trial detention since 3 May when their bail was revoked by the South Bangkok Criminal Court, which claimed that they violated their bail conditions by causing public disorder by participating in another poll on land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.

The Honorable Judge Mr Kongchak Photiphrom
President of the Bangkok Southern Criminal Court

The Honorable Judge Mr Manas Phakdiphuwadol
Vice President of the Bangkok Southern Criminal Court

Dear Honorable Judges,

We are writing with grave concern about the repeated denials of bail to Bai Por and Bung Netiporn, two young women currently detained pending trial in the Central Women’s Prison in Bangkok.  They have been detained since 3 May 2022 and on hunger strike in protest of their denial of bail since 2 June 2022. Their arrests, detention, and denial of bail are part of a broader suppression of freedom of expression in Thailand. As the condition of their health continues to decline, we call on you to take a stand in support of justice and human rights, protected by both the 2017 Constitution and Thailand’s international human rights obligations, and immediately grant them bail.

The very arrest and prosecution of Bung and Bai Por indicates an alarming trend of suppression of freedom of expression. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reports that at least 202 individuals have been accused of violation of Article 112 between 24 November 2020 and 24 June 2022.

On 8 February 2022, Bung, Bai Por, and four other activists carried out a poll at Siam Paragon shopping mall in central Bangkok. They had a poster and stickers for respondents to indicate their opinion on the question: “Do you think that royal motorcades cause hardship and annoyance or not?” (“คุณคิดว่า ขบวนเสด็จสร้างความเดือดร้อนรำคาญหรือไม่”). All six activists and two independent journalists who live-streamed the poll were arrested and accused of violation of four articles in the Criminal Code: disobeying the order or an official (Article 368), insulting an official (Article 136),  sedition (Article 116), and lèse majesté (Article 112).  Their poll was peaceful expression protected by Section 34 of the 2017 Constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which we respectfully remind the court that Thailand is obligated to uphold as a state party.

Bung Netiporn, age 26, is an English-language tutor and the primary caregiver for her chronically-ill mother. Bai Por, age 20, is a first-year student in the Puey Ungpakorn School of Development Studies at Thammasat University. Her ongoing detention has already caused her to miss required activities related to her study, a right protected by Article 13 of the International Covenent on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which we respectfully remind the court that Thailand is obligated to uphold as a state party.

In their latest petition for bail, submitted on 23 June 2022, their lawyers requested bail on legal and humanitarian grounds. Without being granted bail, the two cannot prepare their defenses. As their hunger strikes lengthen, the health of both Bai Por and Bung is deteriorating. Bail was denied by the Bangkok Southern Criminal Court on 24 June 2022, and this denial was held up by the Appeal Court on 27 June 2022. Bail was denied even though the police investigating officials did not oppose the request for bail.

Both Bung and Bai Por are weak and suffering from abdominal pain as a result of their hunger strike. To date, Bung’s weight has decreased by 15 kilos and Bai Por’s weight has decreased by 5 kilos.  Bung, in particular, is vomiting and fainting regularly. She was sent to the Department of Corrections Hospital on the evening of 28 June 2022 due to her grave condition. On 29 June 2022, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that she is being given intravenous fluids, vitamins, and medication due to complications from being on hunger strike.

We respectfully remind the court that within the Thai judicial system, those accused are innocent until proven guilty. The repeated denials of bail of Bai Por, Bung, and others accused of violation of Article 112 — while those accused in other cases, including violent crime, are released on bail — suggests that there is a double standard in which those accused of lèse majesté are deemed to be less worthy of rights than others. We further respectfully remind the court that Article 9(3) of the ICCPR stipulates that release on bail prior to trial shall be the usual practice.

Finally, we call on the court to take a stand in support of freedom of expression and the full exercise of human rights, including upholding the ICCPR and ICESCR. Without your action, in the short term, the lives of Bung, Bai Por and others persecuted for exercising their rights will be damaged. In the long term, the development of democracy in Thailand will be damaged.

With great respect and sincere thanks,

Tyrell Haberkorn
Professor of Southeast Asian Studies
Department of Asian Langs and Cultures
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Thongchai Winichakul
Emeritus Professor
Department of History
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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