7 things that must know before hearing the case of Tepha’s verdict

 On 27 December 2018, the Songkla Provincial Court read verdict in “the case of Tepha” which related to villagers from Tepha District, Songkla Province, rallied from Tepha District to Mueng District for submitting their letter about opposing against construction of the coal-fired power plant. Therefore, Tepha villagers were prosecuted according to the Public Assembly Act and obstructing authorities.

Initially, the activity “Thepha rally” had tenure for 4 days. Villagers started to march from Tepha District on 24 November, and they would submit their letter to the Prime Minister, on 28 November 2017. The main purpose of this rally was to submit their letter toward the Prime Minster, and it was communication regarding to public issue as well. Nevertheless, on 27 November 2017, while villagers was walking to Mueng District, Songkhla  Province, authorities dispersed a crowd and arrested at least 16 people. Later on, another person was prosecuted as well which had 17 people in total.  
The Songkhla Provincial Court scheduled witness examination between 13 June and 10 October 2018. As ilaw closely followed the witness examination for both plaintiff and defendant, therefore, it could be summarized from observation and discussion with the defendants as well as villagers from Tepha which consisted of 7 following issues.

1.    What charge were the villagers from Tepha prosecuted?


On 12 January 2018, a Songkhla public prosecutor viewed that all 17 villagers should be prosecuted by different charges. First of all, Ekkachai, Rungreung, Patiharn, and Direk were accused of holding public assembly without notification to the Songkhla police superintendent in charge of an area where the assembly will be held at least twenty four hours prior to the activity. Moreover, they failed to submit an application for extension of the notification period to the Songkhla Police Chief before the protest began.

Secondly, all 17 defendants possessed long wooden sticks that were one meter in length and two centimeters in circumference, and the sticks also had sharp tips and flags on the top. The defendants took the sticks into the village and public areas, and they used the sticks and would use them to intentionally injure others.

Thirdly, the four promoters including of Ekkachai, Rungrueng, Patiharn, and Direk failed to ensure that their protest would not disproportionately interrupt people’s use of public space, and  the protesters behaved lawfully as well. They also refused to cooperate with police officers who are legitimate surveillant authorities of the protest under the Public Assembly Act. All the 17 defendants together caused inconvenience for the public by impeding the traffic of Songkhla-Natawee Road and taking weapons into public areas without official permission. Besides, they obstructed performance of duties of the legitimate officials who were responsible for rendering facilitation of the protest under the Public Assembly Act.

Fourthly, the 17 defendants blocked Songkhla-Natawee by gathering of protesters, and then they moved the protesters into a traffic area where the protesters sat and laid down on the streets. Supposedly, their actions might cause danger or damage to vehicles without permission from a traffic officer.

Fifthly, The 17 defendants together hindered public officers’ execution of their duty to oversee and facilitate public assembly.

2. Who attacked the police?


According to the charge, the public prosecutor accused all 17 defendants of hindering public officers’ execution of their duty to oversee and facilitate public assembly, which led the police to get injured at least 4 people, getting nosebleed and bruise.   

‘The first police’ : “ Got nosebleed as well as the deformed nose but it could recover by itself. A doctor prescribe medicine to take at home.”

‘The second police’ : “A doctor said bruise would recover within 3 days”

 ‘The third police’ : “during confrontation, there was an unidentified object hitting on his hand, and he had no idea who attacked him. Also, there was a bruise appearing on the right hand which was   1 centimeter in width and 3 centimeters in length. A doctor said that it had to take around 3 days for recovery”

‘The fourth police’ : “ Having been hit by an object which was similar to wood stick from the front and having been hit by some objects on his right hand, he was injured and had no idea who attacked him.

All the police who were injured cannot recognize a doer whereas witnesses for plaintiff cannot identify a defendant who did it either.

3.    A 16 years old protestor was attacked as well.

During confrontation, not only did the police get injured, but some protesters also became injured and a defendant. Hanafi, a defendant, No. 17, was only 16 years old at that time. In the Court, Hanafi testified that on 27 November 2018, he was a participant marching toward the Songkhla Rajabhat University where confrontation between the police and the protesters happened. Furthermore, at that time, he stayed in front line. Hanafi insisted toward the Court that he did not hold a wooden pole or any tool, and during confrontation, Hanafi was dragged behind a pick-up truck and was physically attacked as well. During that time, someone ordered to arrest Hanafi get to a van, but Hanafi was reluctant.  Later on, villagers came to help him so that he was free from arrest.      
Hanafi’s testimony was similar to Somboon’s testimony, the defendant No. 6, identifying that during confrontation at the area of Songkhla Rajabhat University, someone shouted that certain villagers were attacked.  Somboon, thus, came to look and found that Hanafi was attacked by a group of people. Somboon and his peers came to help Hanafi. Resistance and fighting occurred until their cloths were torn apart.
Furthermore, Direk who was Hanafi’s uncle, testified that after the situation, Hanafi told Direk that he was physically attacked by some officers in front of the Songkhla Rajabhat University. However, direk did not see Hanafi’s wound and just told Hanafi to see a doctor. He remembered that after Hanafi was attacked, he became more depressed.  

During arrest, Hanafi was detained together with other defendants. Also, the police did not ask how old he was because at that situation, Hanafi was so terrified. Therefore, he did not tell the police that he was 16 years old when the police wrote an arresting record. The police did not ask him either. The police realized that Hanafi was 16 years old after having investigated each individual. On the other hand, after the Songkhla Juvenile and Family Court issued a temporary prisoner release order for Hanafi, he did not complaint to the police. He still was terrified about the situation.

4. Was the process of criminal investigation not careful enough?

Continuing from an issue that the protestors attacked the police, according to the injured police’s affidavit, it was not the same as the testimony in the Court. ‘The second Police’ identified that he was not punched. However, an inquiry officer identified that his wound came from being punched. It might be misunderstanding of the inquiry officer himself based on the first police’s testimony earlier. Meanwhile, for ‘the third police’ who was hit at his hand by someone, why affidavit of the inquiry investigator said that his wound occurred from being punched.

Furthermore, in the case of Anas, the defendant No.15 participated the assembly at 12.00 a.m. on 27 November 2018 or the day of incident. On that day, the defendant had short hair and wear a cream-color t-shirt. However, the public prosecutor submitted a photo to the Court and identified that a person in the photo was Anas; it turned out to be the photo of someone who was medium-sized and had shoulder-length hair. Also, Anas identified that at that time, his hair got crew cut which was different from the photo. Anas identified that the person in the photo was a female, and she was the Prince of Songkhla University student as well.   

 5. The Court did not issue warrant for investigating the political rally.


In 2018, some of these villagers once used to march and participate in a public forum about Pak Bara pier construction. At that time, villagers had walked for five days by hoping that it would be a public campaign like Thepa rally. For this public assembly at that time, villagers did not have to notify the authorities to hold public assembly, and they were not prosecuted as well. By each day, around 15-20 people participated except the last day, which had 100 people participating assembly without any threat from the authorities.

Therefore, villagers performed Thepa rally without permission or notification at least 24 hours prior to the activity because they thought that it was not within the scope of public assembly which was similar to Pak Bara rally. However, for this time, the police had told protesters to notify, so villagers submitted an application for extension of the notification period before the protest began, but not prior to 24 hours, which was a minimum time that the Public Assembly Act had prescribed. Although there were some interferences from authorities, villagers still persist to meet Gen. Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the Head of NCPO and the Prime Minster so as to directly complain their problems toward the leader of the country.  

When villagers were not willing to end the protest, the police who were in charge of public assembly thus called for the Civil Court and Provincial Court that had authority above the public assembly area to end the public assembly. Normally, if the authorities who oversaw and facilitated public assembly will complaint toward the court, and the police would label a court writ at public assembly area to inform all protesters. However, for this time, the order was spread by only word of month. Pol.Lt.Col. Kiettipong Radomsuk who was a Superintendent of Songkhla Police Station, in Prevention and Suppression, complained toward Ekkachai, the defendant No.1.

He said that “….At the Khao Rup Chang Tambon Health Promoting Hospital, at around 12.00 p.m. after having finished talking, Pol.col. Supakit Prachantasen [who called for Songkhla Provincial Court to examine political rally] phoned and order Ekkachai that right now there was a trial at Songkhla Provincial Court which ordered Ekkachai to participate in trial. Ekkachai thus went with Pol.Lt.Col. Kiettipong. He was on a car and sit on the back seat. While driving, Ekkachai received phone after that Ekkachai said that there was a set up of police force in front. Thus, he would like to talk with the protesters, so he got out of the car, and then he said he would not to go to the court.....”

Ekkachai, the defendant No. 1 said that after having talked with a Songkhla Provincial Governor, a Chief District Officer, and Pol.Col Kiettipong, Pol.Lt.Col. Kiettipong said to him unofficially that the police had called for the Court to release order so as to end the protest. The Court would have examination at around 13.30 p.m. and ordered Ekkachai to go to the Court as well. When he heard that, he thus went with Pol.Col Kiettipong. However, when he was on the car, Ekachai felt something unusual that why there was no official summon. Moreover, when he passed the Songkhla Rajabhat University, he saw that the police were setting up a barrier so as to stop the protesters. It might be a plan to separate Ekkachai from the protesting area. Therefore, he decided to come back to the protesters instead. After that, no authorities summoned him to the Court again.

6. The difficulty to live and to make a movement


Most of defendants lived in Thepa District, Songkhla Province which was far from the Songkhla Provincial Court around 80 Kilometers. The defendants testified in a similar way that this prosecution caused difficulty for living as they must try to make time to go to the Court, instead of earning a living.

Patiharn, the defendant No. 2 :  “…I wasted a lot of time and cannot work either. I went to the Court at least 10 times within one month. The good thing was that a professor using his position to bail me out. Otherwise, I had to use parents’ title deed to bail myself out which will be more difficult….”  
Rungreung, the defendant No. 3 : “…This prosecution affected my career as I had to go to the Court and cannot sail and catch fish. For today, I sailed and caught fish at night, and then I went to the Court immediately without taking a break…”  

Isdares, the defendant No. 5: “….This case affected my career. I had to take leave in order to go to the Court, and I was afraid of being fired or returning my income...”

For the offence according to the Public Assembly Act, Ekkachai, the defendant No.1, viewed that a public assembly has put burden on promoter’s shoulders. When participants knew the provision of the Public Assembly, no one would like to be a promoter. Also, many provisions of the Public Assembly Act did not facilitate the public assembly at all and increased more burden to hold the public assembly. Meanwhile, Somboon, the defendant No. 6, viewed that the enforcement of the Public Assembly Act has created sense of fear to the villagers who made a movement. When a provision prescribed that to hold a public assembly shall notify at least 24 hours prior to the activity, it cause difficulty for the protesters. What’s more, villagers did not know the details of the Public Assembly Act. Therefore, when they decided to fight, they would be prosecuted unavoidably which caused difficulty to fight for their rights as well.


7. The case of Thepa rally Part 2


On 8 November 2018, a Na thawi provincial public prosecutor prosecuted Ekkachai, Direk, Ay-Yob, Ar-Meen, Rawgiyod as not notifying a superintendent at least 24 hours prior to the activity and performing political rally without notification to a police superintendent in charge of an area where the public assembly will be held. The incident occurred in Thepa District. By the process of investigation, the five defendants denied all charges.
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