Thai Pro-Democracy Activists Charged with Lese-Majeste Freed on Bail

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Thai Pro-Democracy Activists Charged with Lese-Majeste Freed on Bail Thai pro-democracy activists Arnon Nampa (left) and Panupong “Mike” Jadnok flash a three-finger salute after leaving Thammasat University Hospital in Bangkok, June 1, 2021.

Two activists charged with violating Thailand’s royal defamation law were freed on bail Tuesday, including pro-democracy movement leader Arnon Nampa who was jailed for nearly four months.

Arnon and fellow activist Panupong “Mike” Jadnok were released in the evening from Thammasat University Hospital in Bangkok where they had been treated after testing positive for COVID-19 weeks ago, according to their lawyers and the court.

Arnon had spent 113 days and Panupong had spent 86 days in jail, respectively, on charges of violating Article 112 – or Lese-Majeste, as the royal defamation law is known.

“[B]oth men voluntarily told the court that if they were to be temporarily released, they will not stir political turmoil, will not defame the monarchy and will appear at every court hearing, therefore there is no reason to not release [them],” according to a court statement handed out to reporters.

A third activist, Chukiat Sangwong, was granted bail Tuesday for his alleged role in tampering with a portrait of the King in a separate rally, but remains jailed on two other Lese-Majeste charges. Convictions under the royal defamation law carry a sentence of up to 15 years per charge.

In a posting on one of his Facebook pages, Arnon thanked those who aided him in securing bail, saying, “Our goal remains the same and is even clearer.”

Panupong made a similar statement on his page.

“Staying in or being outside [the jail] we are still fighters, nothing could change us,” he said.

Each man was released on 200,000 baht (U.S. $6,414) bail, Kritsadang Nutcharat, a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a legal defense group representing pro-democracy activists, told reporters.

“Both men are in safe condition as no more virus was found, according to their doctor,” Kritsadang said. “But the court wants them to stay under quarantine until the court receives their COVID-19 test results.”

About 100 charged

Beginning in November 2020, at least 97 people have been charged with Lese-Majeste after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha vowed to exercise all “pertaining laws” against youth-led anti-government demonstrations. Three activists remain jailed on the charges, according to TLHR.

Before Prayuth’s warning, police had relied on sedition charges against the protesters.

Since protests began in July 2020, the demonstrators have called on Prayuth to step down, for the constitution to be updated and for the monarchy to be reformed.

Arnon, Panupong and five other pro-democracy activists were accused of violating Lese-Majeste during a two-day protest in September 2020. The charges were filed in February.

Arnon and Panupong played key roles during the rally that began on Sept. 19, 2020, and which drew more than 100,000 people.

As they wrapped up the rally, about 5,000 demonstrators massed near the Privy Council building, where they hoped to deliver the letter directly to the king’s panel of advisers. They instead handed it to the metropolitan police chief because they were prevented from approaching the building.

The letter asking the monarch to endorse reform of his own institution was unprecedented in a country where the king is considered semi-divine and safeguarded by laws that can land critics in jail for years.

Besides Arnon and Panupong, five others – Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, Patiwat Saraiyam, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul – were taken into custody over their roles in leading protests but have since been released on bail.

“After being freed, Arnon and Mike as well other activists released on bail before them can prepare their defenses. We want to see this fair justice,” Thannapat Jarenpanit, a political science lecturer at Pibulsongkram Rajabhat University, told BenarNews.

Kunnawut Boonreak contributed to this report from Chiang Mai, Thailand.


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