2014 Situation Summary Report 3/5: Freedom of Assembly/Expression and Political Charges

 

There has been a dramatic change in the situation of freedom of assembly and expression since the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Under the power granted by martial law, the NCPO declared Announcement No.7/2557, which prohibited political gatherings of more than 5 persons. At least 24 persons have been charged with violating this announcement. Charges of “Incitement,” specified in Section 116 of the Criminal Code, have been filed against at least 7 persons and the Sanitation Act has been used to fine people for public expression in at least 3 instances. 

Furthermore, the NCPO used various methods to prohibit public events on at least 42 occasions. This included using state officials to directly prohibit events, issuing an order disallowing events, and negotiating with or arresting participants.

The NCPO also charged and prosecuted at least 11 individuals who did not report following summons from the NCPO. 

 
Political Cases Prior to the Coup d’état

There were at least 3 freedom of expression cases with significant proceedings in 2014:

1. On 25 March 2014 the Chiang Rai Provincial Court dismissed charges in the case of a Chiang Rai Red Shirt gathering which violated the Emergency Decree. The court’s view was that this was a nonviolent demonstration which did not cause a breach of the peace.  

2. On 21 October 2014 the Appeal Court issued a one-year prison sentence to former Bangkok District Councilor Somchai Paiboon who was accused of giving a speech that incited unrest during an illegal assembly at Phan Fa Bridge during a Red Shirt demonstration in 2010. He was found guilty of violating the Emergency Decree and Sections 116, 215 and 216 of the Criminal Code.

3. On 26 November 2014 the Appeal Court dismissed the NLA Sit-in case from 2007 as it was a protest against an unjust legislative procedure. The protesters peacefully dispersed without any further acts of violence after the meeting was cancelled and there was no intention to cause political unrest. 

 

In the two cases noted above in which the charges were dismissed, the court rulings have broadened the meaning of freedom of assembly beyond that in the Criminal Code;  if it was an unarmed, peaceful assembly, the court did not interpret the incidents as violations of the Criminal Code. In contrast, in the case of Somchai Paiboon, both protesters and government officers used violence and therefore the court ruled that this protest could not be considered an exercise of freedom of assembly. 

 
Defying NCPO Announcement No.7/2557 (banning political gatherings of more than 5 people)   

Shortly after the 2014 coup, the NCPO issued Announcement No.7/2557 which prohibited all political gatherings of five or more than five persons. The punishment for violation of this announcement was set as imprisonment not exceeding one year and a fine not exceeding 20,000 baht, or both.

After the coup, many people expressed their opposition and were arrested after peaceful gatherings. At least 134 persons were arrested for participating in peaceful protests. At least 48 persons have been charged under NCPO Announcement No.7/2557.    

Out of these 48 individuals, 24 were arrested for involvement in the Khon Kaen Model case, which involved assembly in private places, not public assembly. There are 15 other cases  which involve 24 individuals who gathered in public. 

Below is a table with details on 12 cases in which the courts have already announced the verdicts. The cases are listed  according to the dates of the judgments.

 

 

Judgement Defendant Court Reasons of Arrest Result
3 July 2014 Veerayuth Pathumwan Municipal Court Participation in anti-coup protests at Bangkok Arts and Culture Center (BACC),  23 May 2014 Sentenced to 2 months in prison and a fine of 6,000 baht, defendant pled guilty, jail sentence was suspended 
14 August 2014 Sarawut Chiang Rai Military Court Holding anti-coup signs at various locations  Sentenced to 6 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht, defendant pled guilty, jail sentence was suspended

25 August 2014

3 Chiang Rai individuals Chiang Rai Military Court
Participation in anti-coup protest at McDonald's 
in Chiang Rai
Sentenced to 6 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht, defendants pled guilty, jail sentence was suspended
26 August 2014 4 Chiang Rai individuals Chiang Rai Military Court
Participation in anti-coup protest at McDonald's 
in Chiang Rai
Sentenced to 6 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht, defendants pled guilty, jail sentence was suspended

4 September 2014

Surasith Bangkok Military Court
Participation in anti-coup protests
at Paragon Mall on 8 June 2014
Sentenced to 6 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht, defendants pled guilty, jail sentence was suspended
8 September 2014 Anurak Bangkok Military Court
Posted a message on Facebook urging people to protest against
the coup
 
Sentenced to 6 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht, defendants pled guilty, jail sentence was suspended
18 September 2014 Pinyophab Bangkok Military Court
Participation in anti-coup protest at McDonald's 
at Ratchaprasong Intersection on 25 May 2014
Sentenced to 6 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht, defendants pled guilty, jail sentence was suspended
18 September 2014 Woraphop Bangkok Military Court
Participation in anti-coup protest at McDonald's 
at Ratchaprasong Intersection on 25 May 2014
Sentenced to 6 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht, defendants pled guilty, jail sentence was suspended
18 September 2014 Nattawut Bangkok Military Court
Participation in anti-coup protests at McDonald's 
at Ratchaprasong Intersection on 31 May 2014
Sentenced to 6 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht, defendants pled guilty, jail sentence was suspended
18 September 2014 Sumet Bangkok Military Court Participation in anti-coup protest at Asoke Intersection on 1 June 2014 Sentenced to 6 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht, defendants pled guilty, jail sentence was suspended
27 October 2014 Chainarin Bangkok Military Court Holding anti-coup paper sign at Paragon Mall on 1 June 2014 Sentenced to 6 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht, defendants pled guilty, jail sentence was suspended
8 December 2014 Nueng Bangkok Military Court
Participation in anti-coup protests at Victory Monument
 on 28 May 2014
Sentenced to 6 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht, defendants pled guilty, jail sentence was suspended
 

Note that in all cases in which the courts have given their verdicts, the jail sentences were suspended. Defendants who gathered in violation of NCPO Announcement No. 7/2557 have not served terms of imprisonment. In addition, most of them have been granted bail during the investigation process; the amount of bail required has ranged from 10,000 – 40,000 baht. Sumet’s case, in which his 4 June 2014 request for bail was denied, was an exception. He was then detained for a total of 7 days at the Bangkok Remand Prison before the court granted him bail on 10 June 2014.

Prison sentences from both civil and military courts have tended to be suspended. In Veerayuth’s case, which was tried by the civilian court, the verdict was only a sentence of 2 months in prison and a fine of 6,000 baht. In contrast, in the 11 cases tried by military courts, the penalty was a sentence of 6 months in prison and a fine of 10,000 baht. The total amount that 16 defendants in cases of gatherings of more than 5 persons in a public space were fined was  a total of 83,000 baht.   

 
Pending Cases 

1. Apichat’s case: He was arrested on 23 May 2014 on charges of participation in an anti-coup protest at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC). At present, his case remains at the prosecution stage. Apichat was also charged under the lèse majesté law (Article 112 of the Criminal Code) and with assembling with others to cause a breach of the peace (Article 215 of the Criminal Code).  

2. Panmanee and Sombat K.’s case: Both were arrested for participation in an anti-coup protest at the Victory Monument on 28 May 2014. At present, both cases are at the state  of evidence examination in the Bangkok Military Court. Besides being charged with defying an announcement of the NCPO, the two have also been charged with intentionally causing damage to public property and obstructing officials under Articles 138 and 360 of the Criminal Code.

3. 4 individuals from Nonthaburi Province were charged on 26 May 2014 for participating in anti-coup protests at Nonthaburi Pier. This case is still under investigation.

 

Note that for the charges of violation of NCPO Announcement No.7/2557, we have not yet found concrete criteria for the cause of accusation. Some defendants who were prosecuted were not protest leaders and have no prior record of any political involvement. On the other hand, some protesters who were obviously seen as organizers of the demonstrations have not been charged. For example, in the instance of the 7 individuals who were arrested during a protest on 8 June 2014, only one person, Surasit, was prosecuted.

The lack of criteria for bringing charges and the tendency of the courts to suspend the jail sentences indicates that the NCPO announcement has been randomly enforced in order to intimidate the opposition from mobilizing against the coup and to create a political atmosphere of fear. The enforcement of the NCPO announcement has not been used as a means to punish criminals for malicious acts, but has instead been used in an explicitly political manner.           

Even though we cannot conclude whether or not this kind of use of law creates fear, and how much it does or does not prevent people from mobilizing against the coup, the wave of anti-coup protests dissipated within one month following the coup. This was in line with the rise and fall of both protests and those summoned, arrested and charged after the coup, and then another rise and fall of both protests and arrests in November 2014.  

 

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Incitement to Create  Public Disorder and the Sanitation Act

Article 116 of the Thai Criminal Code, which defines the offense of incitement to create public disorder, was also used after the coup. Individuals charged under this measure are usually protest leaders and are charged as a government tactic to silence opposition leadership. There are 4 cases under Section 116 which are currently in the courts. The defendants have been released on bail and no verdicts have been delivered yet. 

1. Chaturon Chaisaeng was arrested on 27 May 2014 at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT). This case is in process at the Bangkok Military Court. He was also charged under NCPO Announcement No.41/2557 and the Computer Crimes Act. 

2. Sombat Boonngam-Anong was arrested on 5 June 2014 at his home in Chonburi province. This case is in process at the Bangkok Military Court. He was also charged under NCPO Announcement No.41/2557 and the Computer Crimes Act. 

3. Three Chiang Rai individuals were arrested on 15 June 2014 for hanging banners with messages calling for the division of the country. Their cases are pending in the Chiang Rai Provincial Court. 

4. Sitthitat and Wachira were arrested on 25 November 2014 for releasing flyers against the NCPO at the Democracy Monument. Their case is currently undergoing investigation.  

The 1992 Sanitation Act is being used to block political expression whose prohibition does not fall within the scope of NCPO Announcement No.7/2557 or other relevant laws and orders. The act has been used in at least 3 cases in which the military does not want to issue too severe a punishment.

1. Relatives of deceased victims from the 2010 political crackdown released flyers calling for justice at Mo Chit BTS Station. They were arrested and fined 5,000 baht each on 31 August 2014.

2. Three students from the Thai Student Center for Democracy (TSCD) hung a banner at a flyover on Vibhavadi Road. They were fine 1,000 baht each on 26 September 2014.

3. Two students hung a banner at a flyover in front of Chulalongkorn UniversityThey were fined 1,000 baht each on 1 October 2014.

These three cases all took place within a one month period. However, before and after these cases, there have been no instances in which the Sanitation Act has been used, even though similar protest activities are ongoing. 

One more notable case related to freedom of political expression is that of Tanaporn. He was arrested on 4 December 2014 for cursing deceased military officers who died in a helicopter crash on Facebook. He was subsequently charged with contempt of state officials, defamation of deceased persons and violations of the Computer Crimes Act.

 
Defying NCPO Announcement No. 41/2557 (Not reporting after being summoned) 

On 25 May 2014 the NCPO issued Announcement No.41/2557 regarding the violation or failure to comply with orders summoning individuals to report to the NCPO headquarters. The punishment for violation of this announcement was set as imprisonment not exceeding 2 years imprisonment or a fine of up to 20,000 baht, or both. 

Since the coup, the NCPO has officially summoned at least 476 individuals and unofficially summoned at least 163 by telephone, home visitations or sending letters not signed by the head of the NCPO. 

Numerous people did not report themselves to the NCPO. They might have been occupied with other business, did not want to report, felt unsecure or had an explicit intention to refuse the authority of the NCPO. There were some who reported themselves later and some who were arrested. At least 11 people have been charged under NCPO Announcement No.41/2557.

5 defendants pled guilty during their proceedings in military court: YeamyodTanat (aka Tom Dundee)SaguanSamran and Narongsak. The judgments for all 5 were identical: a 1-year prison sentence and a fine of 20,000 baht, with a reduction of the prison sentence by one-half and its suspension.

6 other defendants denied the charges and their  cases are still pending: Chaturon Chaisaeng,Sombat Boonngam-AnongJittraWorajet PakeerutSiraphop and Nut. Two cases, those of Sombat Boonngamanong and Nut, are being tried in the civilian court because they arose before 25 May 2014. The others are being processed in the military court system.

It is worth noting that there are no concrete criteria for charging those who violated Announcement No.41/2557. Many people who were summoned and did not report themselves, or reported later, have not been charged. These allegations, therefore, do not aim to punish people, but aim to create a political atmosphere of fear similar to NCPO Announcement No.7/2557.        

 

205

 
Prohibitions of and Interventions into Public Activities

Since the coup, there have been at least 24 prohibitions of seminars and activities on the topics of politics, state administration and human rights and at least 18 prohibitions of gatherings and assemblies. In total, at least 42 public events were prohibited or intervened in by the authorities. 

Among these 42 prohibitions and interventions, 23 were neither political nor anti-coup activities. Instead, they included 9 activities about land and community rights, 4 on energy reform, 3 on education, 2 on the conflict in the Middle East and 2 on decentralization.

For example, these prohibitions and interventions included the arrest of 6 members of the Energy Reform Network who marched asking to participate in the creation of energy policies, the prohibition of a seminar on the topic of, “Access to Justice in Thailand: Currently Unavailable,” by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and the prohibition of a rally by Kasetsart University students about the Environment and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) of Mae Wong dam. 

Officials implemented various types of censorship and interventions both directly and non-directly. Some public events faced several types of intervention such as physical force, intimidation, and the creation of pressure as follows: 

1. Phone calls to insist on the cancellation of activities: at least 14 times.  

2. Sending official documents that prohibit activities: at least 4 times.

3. Personal discussions to enforce the prohibition of activities: at least 7 times.

4. Informing the organizers that the authorities cannot approve the event in time: at least 2 times. 

5. Using physical force to halt activities: at least 8 times. 

6. Pressuring venue owners into forbidding activities: at least 4 times.

7. Sending officers to observe activities: at least 4 times.

8. Arresting activity organizers and participants: at least 12 times.

9. Summoning or charging activity organizers later: at least 4 times.

Upon examination of the timeline of activities, we can see that during the early stages of the coup, there were not many prohibitions or interventions into activities due to the fact that the organizers themselves felt unsecure and decided to cancel activities on their own. Soon after, numerous social movements emerged and activists tried to organize some activities in order to express their opinions. These activities then faced prohibition and intervention by state officials. These changes in responses by state officials can be seen in the timeline below:

1. June 2014: at least 1 public activity prohibited. 

2. July 2014: at least 4 public activities prohibited. 

3. August 2014: at least 6 public activities prohibited. 

4. September 2014: at least 8 public activities prohibited. 

5. October 2014: at least 4 public activities prohibited. 

6. November 2014: at least 15 public activities prohibited. 

7. December 2014: at least 5 public activities prohibited. 

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It is worth noting that the NCPO tried to act gently in order to save their image by first calling organizers on the phone to request the cancellation of activities. But if organizers did not follow their requests, the officials then used intimidation or dealt directly with the venue owners in order to halt the activities. If the officials needed to use physical force, they first sent policemen, who have a softer image, with back-up provided by uniformed and plainclothes soldiers.

The NCPO remains highly sensitive to public activities. The reason for limiting expression that they cite is the need to suppress examples of protest for others. This clearly shows how that the NCPO does not want the people to organize activities about civil liberties and social issues, and in particular demands or calls for street protests. They have taken action to serve as a “nip in the bud” to extinguish the early sparks that could lead to a fire in the form of opposition activities that would damage the regime. 

 

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