WHILE THE government has claimed that human rights are a highlight of its national agenda, more than a hundred people have been charged in the past two months for exercising their right to freedom of expression by calling for an election to be held this year after almost four years of coup-installed rule.
Their cases are scheduled to move forward to prosecution this week.
According to the Thai Human Rights Lawyer website, the protesters, collectively known as “The Pro-Election People Group”, are demanding that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) step down and hold an election. They have been charged with violating the ban on political gatherings of five or more people under the Public Assembly Act and for committing sedition. The charges are punishable by imprisonment of up to seven years.
Their series of demonstrations was a reaction to the passing by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) of an organic bill governing MP elections with clauses that could potentially delay the promised election by three months.
The previously rare use of mass lawsuits has become more common following recent demonstrations. Traditionally, only the leaders of protests had been targeted by strategic lawsuits against public participation.
As many as 39 protesters were accused by an NCPO legal officer of violating the Public Assembly Act and the NCPO’s ban on political assembly after they allegedly took part in a demonstration held on the skywalk above Pathumwan Intersection and adjacent to the MBK Centre and Siam Discovery.
Nine protest leaders were additionally charged with sedition, including Rangsiman Rome, Siriwith Seritiwat, Nutta Mahuttana and Sombat Boon-ngamanong.
Two of the 39 pleaded guilty to the charges and were handed a halved punishment – a suspended sentence of six days in jail and a Bt3,000 fine.
The rest denied the allegation. The case was initially dismissed when the prosecutor said that proceeding would not serve the public interest but that is being reconsidered, with a final decision expected this Thursday from the Attorney-General. The second in a series of protests in February took place around the Democracy Monument on Rachadamnoen Road, with thousands of people estimated to have participated and as many as 42 protesters charged.
Seven alleged leaders were charged after complaints alleging sedition and violation against the ban were filed against them. The remainder were only charged with violating the ban on gatherings.
The prosecutor agreed to bring those cases to court. All defendants denied the allegation and were freed without even having to post bail.
The evidence review is set for June 4.
A group of 57 people faced the same allegation following a political march and protest in March. Held in front of the army headquarter, that action called on the military to stop supporting the junta. Ten alleged leaders acknowledged the charges last week and were freed.
Police summoned the remaining 47 others to acknowledge the accusation this Wednesday.
Rangsiman, a prominent pro-democracy activist implicated in all the three events, has been charged with alleged sedition.
He said he faced numerous lawsuits because of his activism against the junta but that he remained undeterred by the cases, which he sees as the junta’s tactic to bully dissenters.
Rangsiman pledged that he would continue to fight both the cases and the ruling junta.