Thailand: Activists may face 100+ years in prison

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In an apparent bid to silence a peaceful, mainly youth-led, reform movement, the Thai government is judicially harassing student and other human rights defenders involved in the Ratsadon (The People) movement. Students and other activists who have participated and spoken at overwhelmingly peaceful protests and flash mobs for political, constitutional and educational reform, face multiple unwarranted charges for their speeches and calls for reform, with a series of trial dates set in May and June 2021. Authorities have held them for prolonged periods in pre-trial detention with bail repeatedly denied, including for reasons which the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has previously said do not justify the denial of bail. 

Authorities continue to indict, and remand persons engaged in protests or commenting online on the monarchy to custody, under emergency laws, vaguely worded articles of the Criminal Code governing sedition and offence to the monarchy (lèse majesté), which carry up to seven and fifteen years’ imprisonment respectively, as well as under laws on computer crimes and public assembly. UN human rights experts have repeatedly expressed concern at the use of these laws to penalise the peaceful exercise of rights and called on authorities to amend or repeal them.  

Lawyer Anon Numpa, 36, detained since 9 February 2021, and student Panupong ‘Mike’ Chadnok, 24, detained since 8 March, are among prominent protest leaders who authorities have repeatedly denied bail, including on the basis they face charges carrying a lengthy prison sentence. They have contracted COVID-19 during their imprisonment, which has coincided with a major COVID-19 outbreak in Bangkok prisons. Anon Numpa, the Gwangju 2021 Prize for Human Rights awardee, has refused to accept all conditions for release on bail, including ones which may restrict his peaceful exercise of freedom of expression. 

Other detained protesters have now been released on bail under conditions, including undertaking to attend court hearings when summoned, not leaving the country without permission and refrain from damaging the monarchy and activities that create unrest. Among these individuals, politics student Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak, 22, and sociology student Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sittijirawattanakul, 22, were detained for 93 and 60 days respectively, after spending weeks on hunger strike in protest against the court’s persistent denial of bail. Parit was hospitalised on 30 April 2021, with suspected gastro-intestinal bleeding.

Authorities have denied bail to prominent protesters who face charges under Article 112, Thailand’s lèse majesté law. There has been a long-standing pattern of arbitrary pre-trial detention of lèse majesté suspects in Thailand. Courts have justified denying bail on the basis of the lengthy sentences allowed under the lèse majesté law. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has previously stated the Thai government’s justification for denying people bail because of the length of sentence allowed is not a valid reason to deny people this right.

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