Activists charged with sedition, denied bail

Two activists have been denied bail after they were arrested on several charges, including sedition, for allegedly honking at and blocking a royal motorcade.

Tantawan Tuatulanon (left) and Nutanon Chaimahabut (right) flashing the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute after being detained.

Tantawan Tuatulanon and Nutanon “Frank” Chaimahabut were arrested yesterday (13 February) on charges of sedition, violation of the Computer Crimes Act, and causing a public annoyance.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that the police accused them of honking at and trying to cut off a royal motorcade for Princess Sirindhorn, the King’s younger sister, as well as for responding rudely to police officers speaking with them about their manner of driving.

Nutanon was also charged with insulting an officer and repeatedly using the vehicle’s horn without proper reason.

The police charged them with sedition after Tantawan posted a video clip from her dashcam, which the police claim caused conflict in the society.  The video clip was posted publicly on Tantawan’s Facebook profile which has over 37,000 followers and people were commenting on it, some siding with her and some expressing disagreement.

In a Facebook post on 11 February, Tantawan said that she did not block or cut off the motorcade. She also said she did not know that there was going to be a motorcade. She was on the way back from a funeral and admitted that she was speeding because she was in a hurry.

The dashcam footage shows the vehicle stuck in traffic, and that the horn was sounded when it moves to the front of the line and the lane was blocked by a police vehicle. The footage also shows the vehicle stuck behind another police vehicle while at the exit from the expressway, and a police officer was seen approaching the vehicle before Tantawan was heard arguing.

During Tantawan and Nutanon's bail hearing, an officer from Din Daeng Police Station testified that the vehicle Tantawan and Nutanon were in was only speeding after the royal motorcade had passed and traffic had resumed. It also did not cut in front of the royal motorcade since it could not get past the final vehicle in the motorcade.

TLHR said that Tantawan and Frank received a summons to hear the charge of causing a public annoyance on 12 February, but asked for a postponement because they had class and work. However, the police insisted on having them meet the inquiry officer on the morning of 12 February, claiming that the officer was not free in the afternoon.  They asked to postpone the appointment to 20 February. Their lawyer delivered the request to the police on 12 February, but an arrest warrant was issued for them nonetheless.

Tantawan and Nutanon denied all charges. As they refused to sign any document or to be fingerprinted, they were charged with refusing to follow an officer’s order.

The two activists were arrested in front of the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court, where they had been since 9.00.  They were waiting to hear the outcome of a bail request for two reporters who were arrested for covering an incident in March 2023 when an activist sprayed graffiti onto a wall at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

They were initially brought to Din Daeng Police Station. The police later told their lawyer that the two activists would be separated and Tantawan was to be detained at Chalongkrung Police Station. When Tantawan refused and insisted on being detained with Nutanon at Din Daeng Police Station, the police had 4 women crowd control officers carry her to a detention truck. A lawyer who followed her to Chalongkrung Police Station found that she had several bruises from being forced into and out of the truck.

The Criminal Court today (14 February) ordered Tantawan and Nutanon detained for 12 days so that they could not tamper with evidence. They were subsequently denied bail on the grounds that the charges against them carry a high penalty, and that they were likely to cause further disorder in society and disrupt the investigation.

TLHR said that the inquiry officer at Din Daeng Police Station testified during the bail hearing that he does not know which other eyewitness he has to interview, and that the two activists were also unlikely to know these witnesses.

The Dusit Municipal Court previously refused to issue an arrest warrant for the pair because of the sudden nature of the request.  Although they were initially charged with a misdemeanour, the inquiry officers decided that they should also be charged with sedition and requested an arrest warrant from the Criminal Court instead.

Tantawan and Nutanon are now being detained at the Women Central Correctional Institution and the Bangkok Remand Prison, respectively. After they were brought to prison, other activists and protesters staged a demonstration in front of the prison entrance to demand their release.

They have announced in a letter that, in protest of their detention, they will be going on a dry hunger strike and will not be filing for bail. They called for a reform of the justice system, an end to the detention of dissidents, and for Thailand to be rejected when it runs for a seat in the UN Human Rights Council.

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