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One day ahead of a court ruling on the temporary release of 3 famous pro-democracy protesters detained on royal defamation charges, the Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) has urged the Office of the Judicial Commission to look into 3 questionable points which may involve the courts in political conflict.

Middle: Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha on the Nation Magazine's front page being drawn and written all over at the protest in front of the Ratchadapisek Court.

On 5 May, HRLA President Koreeyor Manuchae and Association members submitted a petition to Methinee Chalothorn, the new Supreme Court President, urging the Judicial Commission to investigate rulings in regard to Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lèse majesté law. The submission was made one day before another attempt to gain the temporary release of Parit Chiwarak, Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul and Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan.

The statement questions 3 issues regrading the courts’ decisions not to grant temporary release to those detained on royal defamation charges.  The total number detained has now reached 88 in 81 cases, thought to be highest ever number of prosecutions.

HRLA team submitting the petition at Ratchadapisek Court on Wednesday.

First, the argument that there is a reason to believe that, if released, the defendants may commit a similar offence, “violates the presumption of innocence as stated in Section 29 of the Constitution and Section 14.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Thailand is a state party.

In contrast, pro-government protesters who have been found guilty by the courts were allowed bail, notably leading figures in the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protests, who were allowed bail by the Court of Appeal 2 nights after receiving jail sentences. The Association expresses concern at the apparent discrimination.

The second point cites the serial bail rejections by the Criminal Court in the care of Parit Chiwarak, a detained protest leader who is under medical care after a hunger strike of over a month. Different judges have heard this case and sometimes hearings were delayed, but the reasons given for rejection have always been the same. The Association questions whether there may be a “special” internal system where political sensitivity influences the judges’ independence.

Third, the HRLA cited the statement on 30 April 2021 by Sittichote Intrawiset, Chief Justice of the Criminal Court, that the bail applications for some protesters who participated in the 19-20 September 2020 protest were rejected because the conditions submitted by the lawyers were unclear, while those who were allowed bail stated clearly that they would not commit another similar offence. This statement goes against Section 108 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which empowers the court to determine the conditions for release, not the petitioner.

Furthermore, the petitioners stated that they would accept the conditions that the court set. This can be seen as the courts placing on the defendants the burden to act until the courts are satisfied. Sittichote’s statement was therefore unlawful.

“We think that lawyers or the people have a duty to scrutinize enforcement of the law. It is the courts that enforce the law. What they must listen to is feedback from the people about how they enforce the law. We therefore expect that this feedback will receive a prompt response, and not be ignored or thought unimportant,” said Koreeyoh

Not all can walk free

The HRLA statement implies that Thai courts are ignoring the presumption of innocence. However, not all the courts keep people charged with royal defamation in detention.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) has compiled statistics on the outcome of bail applications starting in 2021. In cases of royal defamation, only 6 out of 15 were allowed bail. 3 of these cases were heard in provincial courts, 1 in Kalasin and 2 in Chiang Mai.

The other 3 are Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Patiwat Saraiyaem who were charged over their participation in the 19-20 September 2020 protest, as were Parit Chiwarak, Panupong Jadnok, Anon Nampa, Chaiamorn Kaewwiboonpan and Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, who have been denied bail 9, 4, 7, 4 and 5 times respectively.

On 5 May, Piyarat Chongtep, leader of the We Volunteer protest guards, was allowed bail by Kalasin Provincial Court on the condition that he will not take part in activities that damage the reputation of the King, Queen, Heir Apparent or Regent. This was the third time that Piyarat’s lawyer and family had submitted a bail request.

Piyarat was charged with royal defamation and under the Computer Crime Act for his activism questioning the palace and the vaccination programme in Thailand at around the end of January 2021. He was detained for 31 days before being allowed bail.

On the same day, Thanyaburi Provincial Court denied the fifth bail request from Phromsorn Weerathamjaree on a royal defamation charge. The reason for the rejection is that there was not enough reason to change the previous decision. Unlike other cases which have been filed in court, Phromsorn’s case is still at the police investigation stage. He is imprisoned under a temporary detention order which the police must renew every 12 days.

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