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33 student organisations and activists groups filed an open letter with the President of the Supreme Court today (3 October) to demand the release of political prisoners detained pending trial or appeal and to call for an end to the prosecution of citizens under the royal defamation law.

Student representatives submitting their open letter to a court representative. (Photo by Chanakarn Laosarakham)

The demands were originally made by activist Sopon Surariddhidhamrong, who is detained pending appeal after being sentenced to 3 years and 6 months in prison for royal defamation. To protest the denial of bail for political prisoners, Sopon declared that he rejects the authority of the court, would withdraw his legal representation and would not participate in any additional legal proceedings against him. In his declaration, he called on the court to grant bail to political prisoners and to drop all royal defamation charges.

Thammasat University student activist Angelo Satayu Satorn, a member of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, said that the students made their demands with the President of the Supreme Court, a judicial leader and chair of several committees that oversees the courts.

Angelo said that the right to bail is fundamental.  He added that the 25 activists and protesters named in the letter were being detained before a final verdict in their cases had been delivered,  and said that the courts should respect their rights. He also said that as there is no clear regulation on how the royal defamation law is to be used, the law has become a tool to silence political dissent. The courts therefore should end all proceedings in royal defamation trials until a clarification has been made on how the law should be enforced.

“Every political prisoner currently detained has families, dreams, jobs, and duties like other people. If the court continues to deny them their freedom, rule of law in this country will be further undermined,” he said.

Nicharee Meekhun, a student from Thammasat University, and Apisit Chavanon, a student from Chulalongkorn University, read the open letter, signed by 33 activist groups and student organisations from their respective universities to reporters and members of the public gathered at the Office of the Secretariat of Committee on Jurisdiction of Courts.

The letter stated that the groups support Sopon’s demands because the 25 detainees have not been found guilty by the Supreme Court and, so, have the constitutional right to be granted bail.

“In not to granting bail rights to individuals accused in political cases, the court, the protector of justice in the country, is acting in a manner contrary to how it treats the accused in other cases carrying higher sentences. This will further damage rule of law and reduce trust in the justice system,” said the letter.

The letter also said that the royal defamation law was used by the former government of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to silence protesters who were exercising their constitutional rights and freedoms. It added that King Bhumibol said in 2005 that he could be criticised because he makes mistakes, and that King Vajiralongkorn said in June 2020 that the royal defamation law should not be used.

At least 25 people are currently held in detention pending trial or appeal on charges relating to protests or other forms of political expression; 10 of them are held on royal defamation charges.

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