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Rights Protection or Deprivation? My Lèse Majesté Case

Translated by Tyrell Haberkorn

On 20 February, the Office of the Attorney General indicted Yukti Mukdawijitra, associate professor of anthropology at Thammasat University, of violation of Article 112 and the Computer Crimes Act. The case arose in relation to a tweet two years ago and was brought by the lawyer for General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former leader of the NCPO, that launched the 22 May 2014 coup, and the former prime minister.  He was granted temporary release with bail of 200,000 baht with the condition of not leaving the country with permission. His case is one of hundreds of cases of violation of Article 112, or lèse majesté, that have arisen in the aftermath of the youth-led protests for democracy and reform of the monarchy in late 2020. If convicted, he faces between three to fifteen years in prison. -translator

I thought for a long time about whether or not I should write it down. But then realized that it might be of public use. So I decided to tell the story of that day.

As many of my friends know, the prosecutor indicted me for violation of Article 112 yesterday. I was taken to the court and brought to what is known as the “arraignment room.”

Lawyers and family are not allowed to enter that room. The procedure seems to be comprised primarily of clerical work performed by court officials. The good thing is that for now, the court (perhaps not every court, perhaps not in every instance) allows you to telephone your lawyer and contact your family. Your family can send in food and drinks.  Otherwise, I would’ve died of hunger.

The entire process took nearly six hours. I survived because a fellow academic lent me a book to read. I got through 100 pages while I waited.

But after the arraignment room, and before being granted “temporary release,” you must pass through the step of “rights protection.” The word “temporary release” is a terrible one and should be changed. Does this mean I am already guilty, if I am temporarily released?

In principle, the provision of “rights protection” is intended for the court to inform the defendant of your rights, such as, if you do not have a lawyer, one will be appointed for you.

But. But. What everyone must comprehend is that at this stage, the defendant will immediately feel that “I am held to be guilty already” according to the prosecutor’s indictment file. Even though that file does not yet hold any testimony of the defendant. The defendant has not yet been able to refute the accusation in any way, at all. But the judge adopts an attitude as if he is trying to persuade you to confess. How can he do that?

At this stage, the defendant must hold the unwavering confidence that I am innocent. We must robustly protect our rights ourselves, by ourselves, in a process that is called “rights protection.” Otherwise, we will immediately lose the chance to maintain our innocence. This all takes place while you are without a lawyer.

This matter should be rigorously academically examined and we must demand that the judiciary respect the rights of the defendants to the utmost. I noticed that there was news that a seminar was held on this at Thammasat University, but I think that the problems of this procedure have not yet been sufficiently clarified.

I won’t go into detail here. But I will tell my friends that it is gravely dangerous to let this process continue on like this without actual protection of the rights of defendants and with the swift removal of the presumption of innocence before the defendant ever enters a courtroom.

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