Thai Court Probes Complaint by Pro-Democracy Activist against Jailers

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Thai Court Probes Complaint by Pro-Democracy Activist against Jailers Thai pro-democracy activists Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak (left), and Arnon Nampa raise three-finger salutes to symbolize resistance as they arrive at the Bangkok Criminal Court, Feb. 9, 2021.

A Thai criminal court said Wednesday it would review CCTV footage as it investigates a claim by activist Arnon Nampa that jail officials improperly tried to remove him and other political detainees from their jail cell late at night, causing them to fear for their lives, his lawyer said.

Corrections officials told an initial court hearing on the matter that they were trying to isolate individuals who had been in court on Monday for COVID-19 tests.

“The court called for hearings involving Arnon and others who were present at the incident and ordered footage from prison’s CCTV to be reviewed on March 22,” said Krisadang Nutcharas, who represents Arnon and is a member of the legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

“Arnon said all suspects feared for their lives, so they stood in view of the cameras where they can be seen for sure.”

In a complaint filed when he was in court on Tuesday, Arnon expressed fear that he and six fellow pro-democracy activists being held in a cell at the Bangkok Remand Prison on Lese-Majeste charges could be subjected to harm.

“About 9:30 p.m. Monday, prison staff tried to take Pai (Jatupat Boonpattararaksa) and Mike (Panupong Jadnok) out of the prison cell. We did not let them do it because it was night time,” Arnon wrote in his complaint, which was later uploaded to his Facebook page.

“They came back again with more people, this time with batons, at 11:45 p.m., 12:15 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. The last two times they came with another set of staff wearing dark blue uniforms without names,” Arnon said.

“They informed us that they were taking us to have COVID tests. We did not let them because it was unusual for anyone to take jailed persons out of their cells even after midnight.”

Arnon told the court he had been warned that someone would “handle” him and his co-defendants in prison, Krisadang said.

The 36-year-old human rights lawyer “also cited examples of many of those accused in political cases who had died. Arnon asked for court protection,” Krisadang said.

‘Impossible’ to attack jailed suspects

Corrections Department director-general Ayut Sinthoppan downplayed Arnon’s concerns, saying the seven were not in danger.

“It was for COVID tests, not a physical assault,” he told BenarNews. “It’s impossible for officials to attack jailed suspects.

“[I] affirm no one hurt them. [I] told prison officials to take a good care of them and keep them away from abuse.”

Jatupat and Panupong are to appear for a second hearing on the matter in Bangkok Criminal Court on March 22 when officials are expected to review CCTV footage of the incidents, according to Krisadang.

Others in the cell were Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Patiwat Saraiyam, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Piyarat “Toto” Chongthep.

In a pre-trial hearing Monday, a court ruled that 22 pro-democracy activists would stand trial together on Lese-Majeste and sedition charges on a date to be determined. Lese-Majeste is the nation’s strict royal defamation law that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison for each conviction.

Only the Lese-Majeste suspects are being jailed pending trial.

“We have no hope in bail request, we tried many times already,” Krisadang said. “But the court said there is no reason to temporarily release them because they could repeat the same acts … such as participating in gatherings of more than five people or using defamatory speech.”

Mother’s concern

Separately, Jatupat’s mother, Prim Boonpattararaksa, appealed to the Ministry of Justice on Wednesday for a proper probe into the late night events.

“There must be an investigation committee whose members exclude prison officials. Officials’ late hour approaches until 2 a.m. is psychological abuse,” she told reporters. “My son is presumed innocent. Even if he is guilty, I want to see him to fight until the final court decision and only then would we accept justice.”

A Ministry of Justice official said Prim’s concern had been addressed.

“The Justice permanent secretary appointed me to represent the ministry. There are no representatives from the prison on the committee because that would hamper the truth-finding process,” said Wanlop Nakbua, deputy permanent secretary at the ministry.


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