On Monday, 29 December 2014, at 9 am in the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok, Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong will appear before the court for the first time since being formally charged on 25 October 2014. They have been charged with violating Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code in relation to the performance of a theatre play, ‘The Wolf Bride’ (Jao Sao Ma Pa) in October 2013. This case is one of many involving the constriction of freedom of expression since the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges all concerned persons to attend the court as observers, and calls on other interested persons to follow the case closely.
Patiwat Saraiyaem, age 23, a fifth year student and an activist in the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Khon Kaen University, was arrested on 14 August 2014 in Khon Kaen province and is being held in the Bangkok Remand Prison. Pornthip Munkhong, age 25, a graduate of the Faculty of Political Science at Ramkhamhaeng University and an activist, was arrested on 15 August 2014 at the Hat Yai Airport, and is being held in the Central Women’s Prison. They have been held without bail, despite numerous requests, since their arrests and since being formally charged on 25 October with one count of violation of Article 112.
Article 112 of the Criminal Code stipulates that, “Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The use of Article 112 is highly politicized and has frequently been used as a method of silencing dissenting voices, particularly in moments of regime crisis. Although this measure has been part of the Criminal Code since its last revision in 1957, there has been an exponential increase in the number of complaints filed since the 19 September 2006 coup; this increase has been further multiplied following the 22 May 2014 coup.
The case against Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong complaint is in relation to their participation in the performance of a play, ‘The Wolf Bride’ (Jao Sao Ma Pa) at Thammasat University in October 2013 on the fortieth anniversary of the 14 October 1973 people’s uprising. At the time of their arrests, the AHRC noted that their arrests for exercising their freedom of expression in a theatre performance was an indication of the ongoing criminalization of thought and expression in Thailand following the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) (AHRC-STM-157-2014; AHRC-STM-159-2014). Their continued detention is a daily reminder of the deepening human rights crisis put in motion by the coup (AHRC-STM-177-2014). In this case, as well as other freedom of expression cases since the coup, the manner in which the two activists were charged more than a year after the alleged crime suggests that the past has become an open catalogue of acts and speech which can be criminalized in retrospect.
The Asian Human Rights commission would like to remind the junta and the Criminal Court that as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Thailand is obligated to protect and uphold Article 19, which notes that, “1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.” The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the coup in the strongest terms possible and wishes to condemn the denial of freedom of expression and the expanding witch hunt of those who express, or have expressed in the past, critical or dissenting views. To think differently than the junta is not a crime.
The Asian Human Rights Commission also remains gravely concerned about the continued denial of bail in this and other freedom of expression cases. Although extended periods of both pre-charge and pre-trial detention have become common in cases of alleged violation of Article 112, as a state party to the ICCPR, the Thai authorities are also obligated to respect the right to temporary release. In particular, the AHRC would like to remind the junta and the Criminal Court that Article 9(3) of the ICCPR stipulates that, “Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgment.” Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkhong were denied temporary release for over two months before being charged, and then this denial continued after they were formally charged. Similar to other Article 112 cases, the Criminal Court has made this denial on the basis that if convicted, they would be subject to a heavy punishment and so are therefore likely to flee.
Seven months have passed since the 22 May 2014 coup and there is no clear timeline for an end to martial law or a return to a democratic government and the protection of human rights. Within this context, the presence of observers within the courtroom is a visible reminder to the junta and the judges that the violation of human rights is not passing unnoticed.