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Thai Court Clears Opposition Party over Sedition Complaint

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2020-01-21
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Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the opposition Future Forward Party, gestures to supporters at party headquarters in Bangkok, Jan. 21, 2020.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the opposition Future Forward Party, gestures to supporters at party headquarters in Bangkok, Jan. 21, 2020.
Wilawan Watcharasakwet/BenarNews

Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday that the opposition Future Forward Party was not plotting to overthrow the monarchy, saying there was no substantial evidence to support allegations of sedition brought against the upstart party.

A petition filed in June by Natthaporn Toprayoon, a former adviser of the Ombudsman’s Office, sought to disband the FFP. He accused the anti-junta party of having links to the Illuminati – a secretive group of European elites plotting to overthrow governments, according to conspiracy theorists.

“To determine who exercises the rights and freedom to overthrow the ruling regime, there must be sufficient and clear evidence, continued conduct,” the court ruled. “But the evidence filed was mere information from websites or in print media. There is no proof that the accused attempted to do so.

“The defendants’ actions were not an exercise of their right and freedom to overthrow the country’s constitutional monarchy,” it said.

FFP leaders were not in court. They chose to remain at the party’s office in downtown Bangkok, where they spoke to reporters after the verdict.

“We believe that all cases are politically motivated. We believe that we are innocent, and we believe that we will go through those successfully,” party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit told reporters.

Thanathorn was banned from holding a seat in parliament because of a conviction for illegally holding media stocks. In addition, there are at least two additional court cases against him that have not been decided.

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, FFP’s secretary-general, joined Thanathorn at the news conference.

“This shouldn’t have been considered a legal case at the beginning,” Piyabutr said. “Thanathorn and I, and members of the Future Forward Party, don’t bear any thoughts of overthrowing the country’s constitutional monarchy.”

He took aim at those he claimed were responsible for destroying democratic governments.

“Military coups overthrow the country’s administration. Therefore, this is not about the political party but a group of people, the military, who carry weapons, who rip the constitution,” Piyabutr said.

Outstanding cases

Police filed charges against Thanathorn on Dec. 16, two days after thousands of supporters joined him in one of the largest political rallies in Bangkok. They rallied to show resistance to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

Prayuth, a retired army general, appointed himself prime minister after leading a May 2014 military coup that overthrew the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. He was voted in as PM following the March 2019 general election after a rule change allowed 250 senators appointed by the junta to vote for the top office.

The FFP captured one-third of the seats in parliament during last year’s election. Since then, the Election Commission has petitioned for the party to be dissolved over a pair of loans from Thanathorn.

The 41-year-old billionaire, one of Prayuth’s most outspoken critics, said in his official declaration of assets that he had provided a loan of 191.2 million baht (U.S. $6.3 million) to finance the party’s electoral campaigns in 2019.

But the commission ruled that Thanathorn was not anticipating a repayment, dismissing his claims that the amount – in two sums, one of 161.2 million baht ($5.3 million) in January 2018, and a second of 30 million ($987,000) in April that year – was given out to the party as a loan.

An analyst said the decision to acquit the FFP did not alter efforts by the ruling party to dissolve the opposition party.

“FFP being disbanded or not now does not positively affect the Thai political landscape because there is a loan case pending a decision,” Titipol Phakdeewanich, the dean of political science faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University, told BenarNews.

“And even if the FFP survives the loan case, the ruling party will continue to use the threat to the monarchy as a pretext to dissolve the party.”

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Parliamentarians for Human Rights issued a statement calling on the Thailand to drop all cases against FFP.

“The wave of judicial cases that the authorities have unleashed against the Future Forward Party is clearly part of systematic reprisals for their success in last year’s election and their unwavering challenge to the military-backed government, said Charles Santiago, a Malaysian MP and chairman of the parliamentarian group.

“If Thailand’s government wants to restore faith into its so-called ‘return to democracy’ it should immediately drop all politically motivated charges against the FFP and democracy activists,” he said in a statement.

“It’s time that the Thai authorities understand that the country is hungry for democracy and that people should be allowed to constructively criticize the laws and policies that govern them.”

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