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Chukiat ‘Justin’ Saengwong, a pro-democracy protester, was arrested at night on 22 March on a charge of royal defamation and taken into police custody awaiting a court decision on bail. The court then allow the police request for temporary detention.

Chukiat Saengwong (File photo)

At 13.01 of 23 March, he was waiting for a court decision on his bail application via a teleconference hearing, according to Bencha Saengchantra, the Move Forward Party MP requesting bail for Chukiat. Bencha also said the police were going to transfer Chukiat to court in the morning, but suddenly changed to a teleconference hearing.

At 17.12, the court denied bail, giving as reasons the seriousness of the charge, the heavy penalty, and the fact that the accused committed similar offences after previously being allowed bail, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). The offence that resulted in his arrest was from his part in the 20 March protest at Sanam Luang, although the offending action has not yet been identified exactly.

Chukiat posted on Facebook at 20.15 on 22 March “The police are taking me to Chanasongkram Police Station. Arrest warrant [Section] 112”. But supporters who went to Chanasongkram Police Station could not find him until he appeared at Huai Kwang Police Station at 23.00.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), whose lawyer was able to meet Chukiat at 00.54 on 23 March, tweeted that the police tried to interrogate Chukiat with a lawyer that they assigned to him and confiscated his phone. Because he objected to this, the police had him handcuffed and detained.

Sgt Narongchai Intharakawi, a soldier who exposed corruption within his army unit for which he was expelled, gave a live interview on The Reporters Facebook page after meeting Chukiat in Huai Kwang Police Station and said that there was no violence during the arrest. However, Chukiat was stressed due to the long period of custody.

The police said that Chukiat would not be granted bail under police procedures. He would be transferred to hear the court decision without going through the state prosecutor.

Some people went to Huai Kwang Police station to show their support for Chukiat. Chinnawat Chankrachang from the New Generation Network of Nonthaburi protest group was also able to meet Chukiat in the investigation room. He said Chukiat gave him a message for the others to fight on and not to worry about him.

Chinnawat has been charged with 48 offences due to his past activities, 5 of them under Section 112 of the Criminal Code or the royal defamation law. Chinnawat criticized these prosecutions.

“Section 112 has made visible something which has never been seen in society. Our friends have denied every accusation. Actually, the court must presume that they are innocent because there has not been any judgement. So the court must allow bail.

“But it appears that the court does not allow even one of us bail. What good is this law? If we want the country to prosper, let’s abolish [Section] 112,” said Chinnawat.

Chinnawat underlined the 3 demands of the protestors: the resignation of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cronies from their political posts, constitutional amendments in line with the people's will and monarchy reform.

“We don’t want to overthrow the monarchy. We want the monarchy, but we want to put it right. We must get rid of the filth, all the fleas and lice that have just been living off the monarchy. This is what we insist on. We want the institution of monarchy to exist with dignity,” said Chinnawat.

Among those in the pro-democracy movement who have been calling for political and monarchy reform, the crop top has been used to lampoon news about King Rama X and the Queen. In January 2021, Parit Chiwarak and Panussaya Sitthijirawattanakul, wore crop tops at Siam Paragon shopping mall.

Later in January, both of them and Phawat Hiranphon, who was seen paying respect by bowing, giving a ‘wai’ (the Thai greeting), saying 'Long live the King', and presenting them with flowers, were charged with royal defamation.

Chukiat became well known for his speeches and public appearances in protests where he wore a crop top. The nickname ‘Justin’ comes from Justin Bieber, a famous singer who wears crop tops.

Beside the problem of detention pending trial, the hastiness of the legal process in lèse majesté cases has come under scrutiny.

On 17 March, Phromson Wirathammachari, a protester well-known for his speeches, went to hear a charge of lèse majesté at Thanyaburi Police Station but the police suddenly handed him over to the court, with a request to detain him.

According to TLHR, the court denied Phromson bail, citing the gravity of the charge, the severe penalty, and the likelihood that he would either flee or repeat the offence. The decision led to him being detained at Thanyaburi prison even though was seriously injured from a traffic accident,.

Sasinan Thamnithinan, a TLHR lawyer who went to the police station with Phromson, posted on Facebook an account of the police haste. The post stated that although Phromson came to the station with his injuries to prove that he had no intention to flee, the deputy superintendent (investigation), after the regular investigation stage, suddenly decided to take him to court before the court closed.

Sasinan doubted the police decision because for a detention request, the appointment at the station would be for the morning instead of the afternoon. The police also expressed uneasiness at her attempt to consult with Phromson over this sudden turn of events. The station superintendent gave them 2 minutes to consult in private.

Without being prepared, Sasinan wrote the bail request as fast as she could. However, the court denied bail, giving similar reasons to those in Chukiat’s case.

TLHR reported on 22 March that at least 76 people have been prosecuted under the royal defamation law in 66 cases. 27 cases were filed by ordinary citizens, 5 by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society and the rest by the police. 4 of the accused are under the age of 18.

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