Today (11 April), the Appeal Court has dismissed the charges against four activists and a Prachatai journalist, after they were charged with violating the Public Referendum Act for distributing stickers persuading the people to reject the constitution draft in 2016.
The defendants (from left to right): Taweesak Kerdpoka, Phanuwat Songsawadchai, Anucha Rungmorakot, Anan Loked, and Pakorn Areekul
This morning (11 April), the Appeal Court ruled to uphold the Ratchaburi Provincial Court’s ruling to acquit the five defendants in the Ban Pong referendum campaign case.
Pakorn Areekul, Anucha Rungmorakot, Anan Loked, and Taweesak Kerdpoka were charged in 2016 after officers from the Ban Pong Police Station searched Pakorn’s car and found documents opposing the draft constitution, “Vote No” stickers, and leaflets belonging to the Election Commission of Thailand. The four were then arrested on a charge of disseminating documents aimed at inducing people to vote in a particular way in the referendum, therefore violating Article 61 of the Public Referendum Act.
On 10 July 2016, Pakorn, Anucha, and Anan were visiting the villagers who had been summoned by the court after they were accused of violating the junta’s ban on political gatherings of five or more persons for opening a referendum monitoring centre in Ban Pong, Ratchaburi. Taweesak is a Prachatai journalist and travelled in Pakorn’s car together with the three activists to report on the event.
The fifth defendant, Phanuwat Songsawadchai, was arrested on the same day. The police accused him of holding an event at the opening of a referendum monitoring centre and filed the same charge against him as the other four defendants.
The Appeal Court ruled on the ground that distributing the “Vote No” stickers is not a violation of Article 61 in the Public Referendum Act, since the content of the sticker is simply campaigning for the people to vote to reject the constitution draft. This is within the boundary of the law and is not considered an attempt to induce the people to violate the law. The Court also ruled that the content of the sticker, which said “Vote No on 7 August. Reject the future we can’t choose”, is not a false statement since 7 August 2016 was indeed the referendum day. If the stickers are distributed, it is not a dissemination of falsehood. In addition, the defendants have the right to distribute the stickers, according to Article 7 of the Public Referendum Act. Campaigning for people to reject the constitution draft is permitted if the campaign does not violate the law.
However, the court also said that the prosecutors may still appeal to the Supreme Court.