Thai Court Grants Bail to 2 Pro-Democracy Activists

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Kunnawut Boonreak
Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand
2021-04-23
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Thai Court Grants Bail to 2 Pro-Democracy Activists Pro-democracy activists Jatupat Bunpatraksa (left) and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk flash a three-finger salute as supporters greet them upon their release on bail from the Bangkok Special Prison, April 23, 2021.
Sarumon Nornrit/BenarNews

A Bangkok court granted bail on Friday to two of 20 pro-democracy activists jailed on charges of violating Thailand’s strict royal defamation law, stating there was not “sufficient reason” to reject their bail request, even as the rest remained behind bars.

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa walked out of the Bangkok Special Prison in the evening after spending 73 days and 46 days in custody, respectively, and posting 200,000 baht (U.S. $6,365) in bail each, lawyers representing them said.

“I’m really happy. It gets lonely in there,” Jatupat told reporters outside the prison, vowing to campaign for jailed colleagues.

“I will closely follow the movement and the fight. I’m worried about everyone. No one wants to be in jail for expressing opinions. I want everyone to get out,” he said.

Both men have been charged under Article 112 – the law that criminalizes royal defamation – for joining a protest at Sanam Luang, an open field near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, in September.

“Our friends are still suffering in prison. I will not stop joining the movement,” Somyot said upon his release.

“I have a mission to call for justice for Penguin, Arnon and everyone who is still in jail because the right to bail is a basic right, according to the constitution. I appreciate that the respectable court allowed the right to bail for us,” he said.

He was referring to key figures of the largely youth-led pro-democracy protest movement that sprang up last year, demanding Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha step down, revision of the constitution and reform of the monarchy.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a legal aid group representing the Somyot, Jatupat and other activists, said it had applied many times for bail for the two until the Criminal Court of Thailand finally approved their applications on Friday.

“The court allowed bail for Somyot … and Jatupat … who were charged with Article 112,” said Noraseth Nanongtoom, an attorney with TLHR. “The reason which the court gave was that there is not sufficient reason to reject the bail.”

Eighty-eight people have been charged with Lese-Majeste since late November in connection with the pro-democracy protests, after the government of Prayuth, a former junta leader, began cracking down on the movement.

standingup.jpg
Somyot Pruksakasemsuk’s daughter, Prakaidao (center), takes part in a protest against the jailing of pro-democracy activists on royal defamation charges, in front of the Supreme Court in Bangkok, April 13, 2021. [Pimuk Rakkanam/BenarNews]

In recent weeks, friends and relatives of the detained activists have held a series of protests outside jails in Bangkok and other Thai cities.

Starting at 5 p.m. every day, small knots of people stand silently for one hour and 12 minutes minutes, calling attention to the detention of activists without bail since February under Article 112.

The protests have gone on amid a new wave of coronavirus cases in the kingdom, where daily infections crossed 2,000 cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic in Thailand.

Those taking part in the protests say the criminal court’s repeated rejections of bail petitions makes it hard for the incarcerated activists to gather evidence to prepare for their trials. 

“My friends inside should not be worried. If you keep fighting, we will be there with you,” demonstrator Navapon Ton-nham told BenarNews.

Another person taking part in the protests is Sureerat Chiwarak, the mother of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, one of two activists who are on a hunger strike because they have been denied bail. 

After 35 days of his strike, Parit appeared in court in a wheelchair on Monday, looking frail.

“We don’t get justice, so we want to demand that,” Sureerat told BenarNews earlier this week, saying her son had lost 20 kilos (44 pounds) and his blood-sugar levels had dropped since he started the hunger strike.

“I don’t want the country or society to be like this,” she said. “We want Parit, Rung and everyone to have a chance to fight … It is useless to keep him in there now.”

A government spokesman denied that the jailed activists were facing an unjust legal system.

“Our actions against some protesters are lawful and according to the circumstances of those who violate the law. Those accused of breaking the law are able to fight the case normally,” Anucha Burapachaisri said.

“We support creative expression as long as it does not promote hate or conflict.”

On Monday, the prime minister commented on Parit’s case.

“I cannot intervene in the legal process of Khun Parit,” Prayuth said.

“Please be sure to distinguish between what is wrong and what is right. A decision to go on a hunger strike will not affect the justice process. The case will be carried out according to the court,” the prime minister said.

Sarumon Nornrit in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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