Student activist Sopon Surariddhidhamrong was arrested on Sunday night (1 May) on a royal defamation charge resulting from a speech he gave at a protest on 22 April 2022 and subsequently denied bail.
Sophon boarding a police truck when he was arrested on Sunday night (Photo by Chana La)
Sopon, a 23-year-old radiological technology student, was arrested while he was leaving the Labour Day event in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC). Witnesses said that, at around 21.20, Sopon got into a taxi to leave the event. A police truck then blocked off the taxi, after which officers came to read him an arrest warrant on a royal defamation charge. The officers also asked him to get out of the taxi and into the truck, or an officer would ride in the taxi with him to Samran Rat Police Station.
Nearby participants in the Labour Day event then came to negotiate with the officers. They also formed a cordon around the taxi to prevent the officers from taking Sopon until a lawyer arrived. At around 22.05, Sopon and a group of protesters got into the police truck for Samran Rat Police Station.
The police blocked the entrance to the police station with metal fences, while a crowd of supporters gathered outside. At around 23.30, the police said they were taking Sopon to the Police Club on Vibhavadi Road. Sopon insisted that the police interrogate him at Samran Rat Police Station and not at the Police Club because the protest which led to the complaint against him did not take place in the Police Club’s jurisdiction and the announcement making the Police Club a restricted area has already been repealed.
However, at 2.00 on Monday (2 May), the police took Sopon to the Police Club. They also did not allow his lawyer to travel with him, forcing the lawyer to travel separately and wait in front of the Police Club before being allowed to meet him.
The officers initially did not say what the charges resulted from and would not let anyone take pictures of the warrant. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported later that Sopon was charged with royal defamation and using a sound amplifier without permission for a speech he gave during a protest march in the Ratchadamnoen area on 22 April 2022. Anon Klinkaew, a member of the ultra-royalist group People’s Centre to Protect the Monarchy who filed the complaint against Sopon, said the speech defamed Queen Suthida.
Sopon was detained at the Police Club overnight. On Monday morning (2 May), the police took him to court via teleconference for a 12-day temporary detention request. The inquiry officer opposed bail on the grounds that the charges carry a high penalty and because, since Sopon is a monarchy reform activist on police watchlist, many royal ceremonies will be taking place in May.
TLHR said that the Court denied him bail because he was previously granted bail on a contempt of court charge resulting from a protest on 2 May 2021 at the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court following bail rejections for several activists detained pending trial at the time on royal defamation charges. The Court therefore believes that if Sopon is released, he is likely to run or repeat his offense, and so denied him bail. The name of the judge who denied bail was redacted by court officials. Sopon is now detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison.
TLHR noted that the police only took 6 days after the complaint against Sopon was filed to issue an arrest warrant without first issuing a summons, and that this is Sopon’s first royal defamation charge.