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Thai Police File Criminal Charges against Opposition Party Secretary-General

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2019-04-17
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Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, secretary-general of Future Forward Party, (third from left) greets supporters as he reports to a police station near Bangkok to acknowledge charges against him, April 17, 2019.
Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, secretary-general of Future Forward Party, (third from left) greets supporters as he reports to a police station near Bangkok to acknowledge charges against him, April 17, 2019.
Wilawan Watcharasakwet/BenarNews

A leader of a new Thai political party that drew the third most votes in last month’s general election appeared at a police station Wednesday to acknowledge two criminal charges filed against him by the military government.

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, secretary-general of the youth-backed Future Forward Party (FFP), denied the two allegations when he reported to the police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) on the outskirts of Bangkok.

“All charges filed (against me) are politically motivated,” Piyabutr told reporters as dozens of supporters swarmed around him.

He was the second top leader of the party, next to FFP chairman Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, to be charged by police this month. Piyabutr’s charges stemmed from a video clip of him criticizing an order by the Constitutional Court to dissolve another opposition party, the Thai Raksa Chart Party, after it nominated a princess as a candidate for prime minister in March.

“For the sake of check-and-balance principle, people who own the sovereignty should be able to criticize them,” he said, referring to the court.

Col. Burin Thongprapai, legal adviser for the military government, filed a complaint against Piyabutr, accusing him of insulting the court and breaching the nation’s Computer Crimes Act.

If found guilty on both charges, Piyabutr could face up to 12 years in prison.

Piyabutr has until April 25 to submit his statement in writing before the TCSD would decide whether to press on with the case, police Col. Siriwat Deepo, the division’s deputy superintendent, told reporters.

Earlier this month, Future Forward leader Thanathorn faced charges of sedition at the same police station. Police alleged that he had violated a ban on public gatherings that was in force at the time when he aided one of the leaders of an anti-junta rally in 2015. He denied the allegations.

Last month, the Constitutional Court ordered the disbanding of the Thai Raksa Chart, a party allied with deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, after it had nominated Princess Ubolratana as its candidate for prime minister.

The previously unheard-of move quickly backfired after the Thai King issued a statement calling the nomination “extremely inappropriate.”

After the court handed down its ruling, the Future Forward Party issued a statement, saying the judicial system had been “abused as a political tool.”

On Wednesday, Piyabutr’s lawyer, Krisadang Nuchjarus, questioned why Thailand’s military government had filed a complaint and whether attorneys for the Constitutional Court felt insulted by the FFP’s statement.

“It is doubtful why the NCPO sued him,” he said, using the acronym for the National Council for Peace and Order, the official name of the junta. “I wonder if the court feels they were defamed at all.”

The public prosecutor and the court must give Piyabutr a fair treatment, a national human rights commissioner told BenarNews on Wednesday.

“The police investigators take complaints but the public prosecutors and courts must weigh in the accusation by the NCPO to ensure justice for people,” said Angkhana Neelapaijit, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, who was present when Piyabutr appeared at the police station.

Last week, the Thai Foreign Ministry summoned more than a dozen foreign diplomats after the junta accused them of “breaching protocol” by attending the filing of charges against Thanathorn on April 6.

There were no representatives from foreign embassies present to observe the procedure on Wednesday, a TCSD officer said.

The one-year-old FFP won 30 of 350 parliamentary seats contested in the March 24 election, and could receive another 50 to 58 of the 150 party-list seats awarded using a mathematical formula tied to the total vote count, according to political observers.

Future Forward received 6.2 million votes cast for the 350 parliamentary seats, placing third behind the opposition Pheu Thai Party (7.9 million votes) and the junta-aligned Palang Pracharat Party (8.4 million votes), according to a tally of votes released by the Election Commission in late March.

Under Thailand’s electoral law, a criminal conviction could lead to election disqualification for Thanathorn, but his lawyer, Krisadang Nutcharut, told BenarNews last week that the case would not affect his short-term political goals.

“As far as I know, the case would not take effect until after the election results are final,” he said.

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