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A student at Prince of Songkla University’s Hat Yai campus has been arrested on a royal defamation charge while receiving a Covid-19 vaccine at the university’s vaccination centre.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that Supakorn Khunchit, a student from the Faculty of Economics, Prince of Songkla University, was arrested by a group of plainclothes police officers in the parking lot in front of the Songklanagarind Hospital’s sport complex after he went to receive his second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Supakorn said that, at first, a man called out to him in the parking lot. He thought the man wanted to ask for some information, so he walked over, but was then surrounded by 3 – 4 other men who said they were police officers and presented a warrant issued by the Phatthalung Provincial Court on a royal defamation charge under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, a sedition charge under Section 116 of the Criminal Code, and a charge of entering into a computer system data which is an offense relating to national security under Section 14 of the Computer Crimes Act.

7 – 8 more plainclothes officers then came out of a vehicle and surrounded him. Supakorn said that he was shocked, and asked the officers for the opportunity to contact a lawyer and his friends. He was allowed to do so, but the officers did not allow him to wait on campus for his lawyer to arrive as they wanted to take him to a police station to record the arrest immediately.

Supakorn also asked the officers why an arrest warrant has been issued for him, since he had never received a summons, but the officers who arrested him said they did not know.

Supakorn was held overnight at Muang Phatthalung Police Station. A lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), along with Suthichai Ngamchuensuwan, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Prince of Songkla University, went to meet him on Wednesday morning (24 November).

According to the inquiry officer, Supakorn was charged because he was allegedly part of a group of people who took pictures of various locations in Phatthalung and posted them on the Facebook pages ‘Free Phatthalung’ and ‘Democracy of Southern Thailand’ along with messages which the police claimed were insulting towards the King and the Queen and aimed to incite unrest among the people.

TLHR said that the inquiry officer did not specify which messages were the offending ones in the temporary detention request, but included them in the interrogation record. TLHR also noted that many of the messages, including “1 2 3 4 5 fuck you,” “Down with feudalism. Long live the ducks,” “The people own the country” do not correspond to the accusation.

The inquiry officer then took Supakorn to court for a temporary detention request. They were later granted bail using Suthichai’s academic position as security.

Supakorn said that he found the process of his arrest unacceptable, since he was arrested by a large group of officers even though he has never received a summons and he had just reported to the police on charges relating to another protest but did not receive an arrest warrant for this case. He was also held in the police station holding cell, which was in poor condition, and was not allowed visitors, since the officer claimed that his photograph would be taken and used to incite conflict, but other detainees were allowed visitors.

TLHR also said that an arrest warrant has also been issued for 2 other student activists on charges relating to the same incident, and that they would be reporting to the police on Friday (26 November).

According to TLHR, at least 160 people are facing royal defamation charges since November 2020. Several activists are also facing several counts of the charge, including Parit Chiwarak, who faces 22 counts, Anon Nampa, 14 counts, Panupong Jadnok, 9 counts, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, 9 counts, and Benja Apan, 6 counts.

Parit, Anon, Panupong, Panusaya, and Benja are detained pending trial on the royal defamation charges, along with activist Jatupat Boonpattararaksa.

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