Thailand Arrests 5 Students; Sentences Man to Prison Over Lese-Majeste

BenarNews Staff
160121-TH-arrests-620 Protesters call for reforms of article 112 in Thailand’s criminal code, which frames the country’s Lese-Majeste law, Dec. 10, 2011.

Thailand prolonged its crackdown against dissidents, arresting five students Wednesday night and Thursday – just hours after a man was sentenced to six years in prison over Facebook posts ruled to have violated Lese-Majeste, the nation’s strict royal defamation law.

Four of the student activists, including their alleged leader, Siriwit Sereethiwat, were freed Thursday when a court ordered police to release them, but a fifth student was still in custody.

Siriwit was taken into custody Wednesday night outside Thammasat University in Bangkok. After spending the night in military custody, he was charged Thursday with violating a ban on protests and political gatherings, Pawinee Chumsri, of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Three students who visited Siriwit – Cholthicha Jaengrew, Chanoknant Ruamsub and Korakoch Saengyenpant – were charged with the same offenses. A fourth student, Abhisit Napapant, was arrested and expected to remain in custody overnight.

The five are among seven members of the New Democracy Movement who allegedly defied a government order banning political gatherings. A Bangkok military court on Jan. 13 approved arrest warrants against the seven after they defied police summons.

They allegedly boarded a train on Dec. 7, 2015, intending to protest at Rajabhakti Park in southern Prachuab Province, a multi-million dollar project built by the military, but were stopped in Raja Buri province.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha defended the arrests.

“I maintained that everyone must obey the laws and arrests can be done in many fashions,” Prayuth told reporters.

According to Prayuth, Siriwit “broke many laws” by going to the park and through other violations of the public gathering law.

Under Article 44 of the country’s interim constitution, which the Thai junta invoked last year, after declaring an end to martial law, groups of five or more people who stage public demonstrations can be arrested.

“If we let them go, that will mean they breach another [law] because they would illegally gather in another place one more time,” Prayuth said.

After being freed from custody, Siriwit appeared in an online video in which he alleged that the people who arrested him roughed him up.

“When I was forced to board a car, I was covered with a scarf and the eyes [blindfolded] so I could not see ... I was later forced into a brush and forced to sit down,” Siriwit recounted in the video clip.

“They kicked me to lie on the ground, hit my head, my back and kicked me …,” he added.

Lese-Majeste crackdown

Meanwhile, Piya Julkittiphan, 46, was convicted in Bangkok Criminal Court on Wednesday for posting two pictures with messages in 2013 that were deemed “disrespectful or unfaithful” to the monarchy, AFP reported.

“The judge sentenced him to nine years but he has given useful testimony during the investigation so the court commuted one third of that sentence to six years imprisonment,” the court said in its verdict.

Details of the posts were not provided as is commonplace in such convictions. Even when details are known, journalists must censor themselves to avoid violating the same law, according to AFP.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights described Piya as a former stockbroker who was arrested in December 2014 and has been in custody ever since.

Prosecutions of Thailand’s tough royal defamation laws have shot up since a military coup in May 2014 followed a court order forcing then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office. Because Lese-Majeste is considered a national security offense, those charged are tried by a military court.

The prime minister, who as a general led the coup by the Royal Thai Army, has vowed to get rid of critics of the monarchy and has called for stronger prosecution of cases involving royal defamation.


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