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The military court has denied bail for members of a Chiang Mai political clan accused of committing crimes against the state in letters criticising the junta-sponsored draft constitution.

Winyat Chatmontri, a lawyer from Free Thai Legal Aid (FTLA), reported that the Military Court of Chiang Mai on Monday, 15 August 2016, denied for the third time bail at 800,000 baht for the 10 defendants. The prisoners stand accused of violating Article 116 of the Criminal Code, the sedition law, the controversial Article 61 of the Public Referendum Act and Article 210 of the criminal code that prohibits political gatherings of five or more persons.

Most of the 10 are members of the Buranupakorn family, a powerful political clan of Chiang Mai, that includes Tassanee Buranupakorn, a former Pheu Thai Party MP for Chiang Mai, Boonlert Buranupakorn, former chief of the Chiang Mai Provincial Administrative Organisation and Khachen Jiakkhajorn, mayor of Chang Phueak Subdistrict of the province.

They were accused of such offences for being allegedly involved in attempts to distribute thousands of letters in northern Thailand between 12-15 July. The letters reportedly contained material criticising the draft constitution.

According to the Thai authorities, 11,181 copies of the letters were found and confiscated in Chiang Mai, Lampang and Lamphun provinces.

The defence lawyer reasoned to the court that since the interrogation of the 10 are being carried out in ‘secret’ without the presence of a lawyer, it is not possible for them to tamper with evidence. Therefore, it is not necessary to detain them.

Moreover, Winyat said that Khachen, one of the 10 suspects, is a national athlete who has to travel to Indonesia to compete in an upcoming shooting event. The Military Court, however, still maintained its denial of bail for the suspects.

Initially, 11 people were arrested in the case but the court granted bail to Wisarut Kunanitisan, a 38-year-old government official from Chiang Mai accused of the same offences. He is, however, still in custody in Bangkok for interrogation.

According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the content of the letters only pointed out the importance of the 7 August draft constitution referendum to the future of the country. The letters also compared previous constitutions to the 2016 draft constitution’s policies on universal health care, 12 years of free schooling and allowances for senior citizens.

As of August at least 17 northerners — 14 from Chiang Mai and three from Lampang — have been detained for their alleged involvement with the letters.     

Tassanee Buranupakorn (third from the left in the white shirt) in front of the Chiang Mai Military Court on 4 August 2016 (Photo from Winyat Chatmontri's Facebook account)

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