Activist arrested while conducting poll on royal defamation law

Activist Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon was arrested on Saturday (26 February 2022), after she conducted a poll on whether the royal defamation law should be repealed and attempted to deliver the poll result to the Grand Palace.

Tantawan Tuatulanon conducting her poll on a BTS sky train (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Carrying red and blue ribbons, Tantawan asked passengers on the BTS sky train, the MRT underground and public buses to vote on whether the royal defamation law, or Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, should be repealed by tying a ribbon to the handrails on the train or bus, red if they want the law repealed, blue if they think it should remain.

Throughout the afternoon, Tantawan took the BTS from the Victory Monument station to the Kan Kheha station, before transferring to the MRT and travelling to the Sanam Chai station. After a small clash with police officers at the Sanam Chai station entrance, she boarded a public bus and continue conducting her poll on the way to Sanam Luang. During her journey, a majority of passengers were seen taking red ribbons and tying them to handrails.

Red ribbons tied to the handrail of a BTS sky train (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Since November 2020, the number of people charged with royal defamation has risen rapidly. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), at least 173 people have been charged with royal defamation for political expression and participation in pro-democracy protests. Several protest leaders are facing multiple counts, including Parit Chiwarak, who is facing 23 counts; Anon Nampa, 14 counts; Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, 10 counts; Panupong Jadnok, 9 counts; and Benja Apan, 7 counts.

An online petition to repeal the royal defamation law was launched in November 2021 and gained over 100,000 signatures within 24 hours of its launch. It gained over 240,000 signatures before becoming inaccessible. Any attempt to access the site was redirected to a screen saying that it has been suspended by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society for violating the Computer Crimes Act. If accessed via https URL on the Google Chrome browser, the browser shows a privacy warning.

While on her way to the Grand Palace, intending to deliver the result of her poll, Tantawan was arrested by police officers near the Ministry of Defence and was carried away by a group of women police officers.

She was taken to Samranrat Police Station where THLR reported that her hands were restrained with cable ties, and she was denied access to a trusted person to go inside the police station with her. Tantawan’s friends had to negotiate with the police to be able to see her.

Tantawan being carried away by a group of women officers (Photo by Ginger Cat)

After spending three hours in detention, she was charged with refusing to comply with an officer’s order under Section 268 of the Criminal Code, and received a fine of 5000 baht. TLHR said that her phone was confiscated while she was detained, and that there were bruises on her hands from the cable ties.

Tantawan said that her intention was to go to the Grand Palace. She said that all she has was ribbons and would not have been able to cause any harm, and that she only intended to show that a large number of people wanted to have the royal defamation law repealed and that the online petition for the repeal has been blocked.

She also said that police officers were talking on the phone while she was being taken to the police station, and that she heard them asking the person on the phone what charge they should file against her. She said that when she was detained on the police van, the officers could not tell her which law she had violated.

Nevertheless, Tantawan said that she will continue her campaign, and that she considered Saturday’s event a success since most participants in the poll wanted the royal defamation law repealed.

Tantawan flashed the three-finger salute in front of Samran Rat Police Station after her release. Red ribbons were also tied around the police station entrance by her supporters. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

Tantawan previously conducted a poll at Siam Paragon shopping mall on 8 February 2022 on whether people think they face trouble from royal motorcades, along with activists from the Thaluwang (“Through the palace”) group, which she has since left. She is now campaigning independently.

During that event, two activists walked around the mall holding a piece of paper saying “Do you think royal motorcades cause problems?” on which people could place a sticker to cast their vote. The event faced obstruction from mall security, who stood in front of the activists, as well as announcements that the mall is a private area and permission must be granted before any event can take place or the management will press charges. They also followed the activists while they were inside the mall, but despite the blockade, people continued to vote on the activists’ poll.

After completing their activity inside the mall, the activists walked to nearby Sa Pathum Palace, Princess Sirindhorn’s residence, intending to deliver the result of the poll. They were blocked by police officers near the palace entrance. Plainclothes officers took hold of one of the activists from behind and tore the cardboard poll sign out of her hands.

A 22-year-old woman who participated in the royal motorcade poll also said that police officers visited her at home after the event. She was not one of the organizers, but went to observe the event and take pictures.  She admits that she became directly involved in the proceedings when police officers tried to stop the event and a small clash took place. She said that this was the first time she had been visited by the police.

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