3 More Thai Pro-Democracy Protest Leaders Jailed on Royal Defamation Charges

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2021-03-08
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3 More Thai Pro-Democracy Protest Leaders Jailed on Royal Defamation Charges Anti-government protests’ leaders Panupong Jadnok (left), Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul (center) and Jatupat Boonpattararaksa receive flowers from supporters, before hearing a court order on whether they are to stand trial for royal defamation, outside the public prosecutor’s office in Bangkok, March 8, 2021.
[Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]

Three more activists are now in jail in Thailand pending trial for alleged royal defamation, after a judge on Monday indicted 18 people on various charges stemming from pro-democracy protests, but granted bail to most of them.

A criminal court denied bail for Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, Panupong “Mike” Jadnok and Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, who face charges under the so-called Lese-Majeste law in connection with a demonstration in Bangkok last September, the court said in a press release.

 Of the three, Jatupat had been sentenced to 2½ years in prison in August 2018, for the same violation of Thailand’s strict royal defamation law. However, King Maha Vajiralongkorn had pardoned Jatupat on the eve of his official coronation in May 2019.

“In regard to bail requests for the 18 suspects, the court did not approve bail for Panusaya, Panupong and Jatupat – suspects 1 to 3 – because of the severity of their charges and [because] there are reasons to believe that, if released, they would repeat the same actions or cause harm one way or another,” the court said in a statement.

The remaining 15 were not charged under Lese-Majeste but indicted for other offenses including sedition or organizing illegal gatherings. They were released after each paid 35,000 baht (U.S. $1,135) to post bail, the court said.

The court will hold hearings on March 15 and 29, respectively, to prepare for the trial and examine evidence in the cases against the 18 activists, said Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), an NGO that assists pro-democracy protesters.

In September, Panusaya had led thousands of protesters who submitted a letter to the royal palace in Bangkok, calling on King Maha Vajiralongkorn to agree to reform the monarchy.

That protest was one of numerous anti-government protests that began in July 2020, with activists demanding that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha – a former army chief and architect of the 2014 military coup – resign, that the constitution be rewritten, and the monarchy be reformed.

Monday’s arrests followed the jailing of four activists last month, also on charges of violating Lese-Majeste, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years per count.

Arnon Nampa, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Patiwat Saraiyam and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk were indicted on charges of royal defamation on Feb. 9 and are in jail pending their trial.

TLHR estimates that at least 63 people have been charged since Nov. 24, 2020, with committing royal defamation.

In November, Prime Minister Prayuth warned that he might resort to enforcing the royal defamation law as a measure against ongoing protests. The king had earlier advised the PM to show mercy and not enforce the legislation.

From July 2020 until March 3, about 382 activists have been charged with a variety of offenses related to the pro-democracy protests, said Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Before she appeared in court for Monday’s ruling, Panusaya, a student at Thammasat University, said some people would have to sacrifice for these causes but the fight for change would go on.

“In the end, someone will go to jail but those outside will keep fighting. Victory can be achieved without us,” Panusaya told reporters.

Separately, police on Saturday detained and pressed charges on 16 members of WEVO – the security guard group for demonstrators – for their involvement in protests on that day. All but one of them were released on Monday after they each paid 45,000 baht (U.S. $1,460) in bail.

“All have come out, all have learned, we are not afraid that the fight will stop. The next generation will take over the burden from us,” Panusaya said on Monday.

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