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The Ratchadapisek Criminal Court has found three activists guilty of insult of court and sentenced them to prison for speeches given during a protest in April 2021 to demand the release of political prisoners.

From left: Nutchanon Pairoj, Benja Apan, and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk (Photo from Mob Data Thailand)

Bencha Apan, Nutchanon Pairoj, and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk were charged with insult of court, joining a gathering of more than 10 people and not dispersing when ordered by an official, using a sound amplifier without permission, and violation of the Emergency Decree, for joining a protest in front of the Criminal Court on 30 April 2021 to demand the release of political prisoners detained pending trial on royal defamation charges.

On 30 April 2021, a crowd gathered at the Criminal Court throughout the afternoon and evening when Sureerat Chiwarak, mother of activist Parit Chiwarak, filed a bail request of her son, at the time detained pending trial on a royal defamation charge and on hunger strike. To protest the repeated denial of bail for Parit, Sureerat shaved her head in the court parking lot. That evening, other activists also shaved their heads to support her and to demand bail for Parit.

The public prosecutor indicted them on the grounds that they insulted the judges involved by accusing them of unlawfully and unfairly denying bail for detained activists, causing hatred against the Court and the presiding judges.

Bencha, Nutchanon, and Somyot’s defence was that they were exercising their constitutional right to protest, and that the gathering did not cause any disorder or risk spreading Covid-19. Their speeches also did not mention specific judges but criticised the judicial process as a whole for denying bail to political prisoners.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said today (17 October) that the Criminal Court found them guilty of insult of court, as the court found their speeches to be insulting and degrading to the court’s use of discretion, and so not did not constitute criticism made in good faith.

Benja and Nutchanon were sentenced to 3 years in prison and a fine of 30,000 baht for insult of court. They were also sentenced to 6 months in prison and a fine of 15,000 baht for violation of the Emergency Decree, as well as a fine of 100 bath for using a sound amplifier without permission. Because they gave useful testimony, the Court reduced their total sentence to 1 year and 8 months in prison and a fine of 30,100 baht each. Their prison sentence is suspended for two years. They are also required to report to a probation officer 4 times during the first year and perform any community service required by the probation officer.

Somyot was sentenced to 2 years and 8 months in prison for insult of court. His sentence was later reduced to 1 year, 8 months, and 40 days in prison. He was later granted bail using a security of 100,000 baht.

Benja and Nutchanon were both charged with contempt of court for the same protest after a complaint was filed against them Chawannat Thongsom, Director of the Administrative Office of the Criminal Court, who said they acted rudely on court grounds and violated court regulations. Nuthchanon was sentenced to 2 months in prison, while Benja was given a 500-baht fine. The Appeal Court later reduced his sentence to 15 days.                   

Benja and Nutchanon were also charged with insult of court and contempt of court for a protest at the Criminal Court on 29 April 2021 demanding the release of detained activists. For the contempt of court charge, Benja was sentenced to 6 months in prison, the highest possible sentence, while Nutchanon was sentenced to 4 months in prison. The Appeal Court later reduce their sentences to 1 month.

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