An overview of public assemblies and harassment following the gatherings April 2022

# Public Assemblies and Harassment following the public gatherings and expression in April 2022

# Overall Situation of the Public Assemblies

January 2022 has ushered in the fourth wave of Covid-19 outbreak. Although no severely stringent response was imposed, unlike in 2020, the government has extended the declaration of the Emergency Decree for the 17th time to until 31 May 2022 fearing the long-vacation during Songkran might have caused another big outbreak again. As a result, Thailand has been under an emergency rule for over two years. The protracted Omicron outbreak has taken much toll on the economy. Meanwhile, those who have exercised their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly have been criminalized by the Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005).

In April 2022, at least 35 public assemblies and acts of expression have been organized throughout the country and at least 12 times of public gatherings by standing to at the Criminal Court and the Victory Monument to demand the release of political prisoners in the name of “free our friend campaign” since the number of politically detained persons has increased to seven.

In 2020, large-scale demonstrations were made coalescing around three demands including the resignation of the Prayut Chan-ocha government, a revision of the Constitution based on the draft constitution proposed by the people and the monarchy reform. Whereas, the mobilization on labour rights, indigenous rights, community rights, and on environmental issues in local has emboldened the existing networks to challenge the state’s power. For example, in 2021, the Save Bangkloi Coalition and its mobilization allied in Bangkok after the indigenous Karen have returned to their birthplaces in Kaeng Krachan Forest, national park and were arrested and charged. Moreover, several groups have mobilized on community and environmental issues including the Na Bon network against biomass power station construction in their community in Na Bon District, Nakhon Si Thammarat. They have gone to Bangkok to submit a letter of petition with various concerned agencies, until an agreement was reached with the government to suspend the issuing of construction licenses of the power plant. The Chana conservation group has been opposing the development of the Chana Industrial Complex at the Government House as the government had failed to make good of the signed agreement to have an impact assessment. This has led to the dispersal of the public assembly in late December 2021.

Although there was an ostensible decline of large-scale rallies in 2022, movements have sprung up to demand decentralization, community rights and local environmental issues. They have grown quite robustly at the regional level including the Ratsadon Khong-Loei-Chi-Mun, a youth network in the Northeast which has been advocating for local issues in tandem with the demand for political structural change, the amendment of the constitution by the people and decentralization. In the North, debates have taken place on decentralization and mobilization of local issues led by the Wilar Party. These are related to community rights, the environment, people’s livelihood and structural politics amidst more organization among various groups to mobilize on local issues by various groups and new generation groups.

In April 2022, at least four public assemblies have been organized to demand the government address the issues of land rights and local issues. The Kaberdin, the villagers of Kabendin, have organized the “Om Koi, the Amazing Land: The breathe of the hills, the smiles of the land, the laughter of the stream” to reflect on their history of struggle against mining in the past three years and to declare their resolution that “the Om Koi people do not want coal mine.’ They have started to demonstrate since 28 March 2022 and planned to converge at the Chiang Mai Administrative Court on 4 April to demand the suspension of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the coal mine conducted without participation from the local villagers. The Save Mae Ram Phueng Beach has submitted their letter to Governor of Prachuab Khirikhan to oppose the beach embankment project. The Free Ubon and its allied organized the “Without Justice: There shall be a rebellion” on 4 APRIL to make 121 YEARS of the crackdown on the rebels in Ubonratchathani. The event featured art exhibition and music performance (The Commoners) in Ubonratchathani to commemorate the struggle of the rebels against the centralization of power by Siam which resonated with the current struggle. In addition, groups of artists and academics have conducted fact-finding trips to Ban Sa Phue, Ubonratchathani by the People’s Network.

At least four activities were organized on the royal reform issue. The Draconis Revolution’ conducted two activities where it appeared the tension and confrontation between police and the protestors since the police attempted to obstruct the demonstration from the official places. On 15 April, an activity was scheduled during the royal motorcade at the Democracy Monument. Later, the destination was changed from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security to the Grand Palace. Upon their arrival there, the protesters had a standoff against layers of police forces causing some commotion during which at least three persons were injured. The police offered an apology and covered their medical bill. The second time on 22 April, the Draconis Revolution planned to organize “Moo La Phtou Tour” to march around the Rattanakosin Island to mark the 240th anniversary of the Rattanakosin Island. They were blocked in all directions by the crowd control police and the police announced that they would resort to use force, if the participants pressed ahead with their march. Prachatai later reported that one member of the public got injured during the clashes between the police and the participants. The Thaluwang conducted a poll to find out if people agree or not with the government’s approval for the King to exercise power at his pleasure in Chatuchak and Central Lat Prao Department Store. The Mok Luang Rim Nam organized the activity “Who killed King Taksin” on 6 April, the Chakkri Day. Their movement was impeded by the police who declared their action was in violation of the Emergency Decree.

Apart from the activities to demand royal reform which have elicited suppression from the police causing injuries, April also saw the commemorations of prominent figures and events. On 24 April, the Wallayangkoon family and Octoberist Network organized an event to commemorate ‘Wat Wallayangkoon’, a renown poet and author and a Sri Burapha awardee who became a political exile. He died on 21 March in Paris, France. People were marching around the Democracy Monument and participated in a series of activities all day long at the 14 October Memorial with security maintained by the police. On 10 APRI, Nattawut Saikua former leader of the UDD organized the commemoration of the 12th anniversary of the suppression of the Red Shirt protests in 2010.

Meanwhile, at least 10 freedom of expression activities have been conducted in response to the political situations in Thailand and in global. For example, they advocated for the right to bail for political prisoners as part of the main events, demanded a stoppage of sexual violence, opposed the demolition of the Pridi Banomyong Institute used for social activities, opposed military draft, and advocated for the use of Marijuana. As to international politics, activities have been organized to demand Russia stop its invasion on Ukraine. The Feminist’s Liberation Front performed 'The rapist is you!' in front of the Democrat Party’s headquarters to demand genuine solution to stop sexual violence.

An effort has been made, directly and indirectly, to call on political parties to address the need of survivors of violence. From 2-11 APRIL, the Thalu Fah organized a protest against the demolition of the Pridi Banomyong Institute’s buildings by camping out in front of the premises. The Chicken Feet Revolution conducted a poll asking “Do you agree with military draft?” three times to survey people’s opinion on the issue. They have even marched to the Ministry of Defense. The Feminist’s Liberation Front performed 'Sida Lui Faai’ song, in which key message is about the fight against oppression, sexual harassment and violent against women and calling for an end of the victim-blaming culture, in front of the Democrat Party’s headquarters to demand genuine solution to stop sexual violence. An effort has been made, directly and indirectly, to call on political parties to address the need of survivors of violence. The DemHope conducted a banner poll on the question “Do you think the government is a real threat against national security, if the authorities physically assault people who demand their political rights in a democratic system?” at the Central World Department Store and Sky Walk. The ‘We are Marijuana’ celebrated the World Weed Day by marching from the Democracy Monument to Khao San Rd. to promote the use of Marijuana. In addition, a vigil was organize to mourn children’s deaths during war between Russia and Ukraine at the Russian Embassy by Ukrainians in Thailand. The Wilar Party also organized a letter writing campaign in Chiang Mai to show solidarity with the Ukrainians.

Since the Free Youth led public assemblies on 18 July 2020 until 30 April 2022, at least 1,808 individuals have been charged for participating in public assemblies or expressing their political opinions in 1,065 cases. Of this, 280 are youth under 18 years of age. Compared with the case stats from the end of March 2022, 13 new individuals have been charged in 20 cases (counting only those who have never been charged before.) Five new youth have been charged. Altogether, there have been at least 3,589 legal actions against the individuals although some of them are charged for multiple offences.

From all the 1,065 cases, 183 have reached a conclusion as the suspects agreed to pay fine to the police or the court since charges against them only carry a fine. Of this, nine cases have not been prosecuted by the public prosecutor.

Detail of key offences can be described as follows;

1. “Lese majeste” offence pursuant to the Penal Code’s Section112, at least 190 suspects in 204 cases
2. “Sedition” pursuant to the Penal Code’s Section116, at least 125 suspects in 39 cases
3. An offence against the Emergency Decree, at least 1,451 suspects in 630 cases (from May 2020 when such charge has first been levied against the protesters and political activists)

4. An offence against the Public Assembly Act, at least 107 suspects in 75 cases

5. An offence against the Computer Crimes Act, at least 129 suspects in 148 cases

6. A contempt of court, at least 34 suspects in 18 cases, and insult of the court, at least 25 suspects in 6 cases

Detained while fighting politically charged cases

In April, seven more individuals have been detained, sending to total number to eight, including;

- Veha Sanchonchanasuek His bail applications have been denied for cases concerning the posting and sharing of two Facebook messages. He has been incarcerated at the Bangkok Remand Prison since 11 March 2022, 51 days until now as the four attempts to post bail were denied.26 On 21 April, Veha’s bail was revoked in another Section 112 case against him for allegedly being owner of the twitter handle “Fah Fon ver. Kriawkrad” and a thread on life in Thawee Wattana Prison.

- Khathathon and Kongpetch were both arrested with the use of force while leaving from Din Daeng for Ratchaprasong intersection to participate in the 12th anniversary of the massacre of the Red Shirts on 10 April 2021. They were held in custody for having in possession explosives and have been remanded in custody since 11 April, altogether 19 days. Their bail applications have been denied with similar reasons that there is no ground to make change to the existing order.

- Patima, girlfriend of Thanayuth “Book” was pressed with charges concerning “causing an explosion” by the Ban Sue Police Station while she has gone there to give evidence as witness in the case against her boyfriend who was accused of hurling a bomb into the residence of Prayut the night of 10 April 2022. She has been incarcerated at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution since 11 April. Her second bail attempt was denied, as the court insisted that there was no ground to change the existing order. She has been remanded in custody for 19 days.

- Phonpot “Petch” Changkrajang turned himself in after learning that he was wanted for allegedly being involved with the throwing of Ping Pong bomb into the lawn in front of the 1st Infantry Regiment the night of 10 April 2022. Denied bail, he was imprisoned at the Bangkok Remand Prison since 13 April. She has been detained for 17 days.

- Ekkachai Hongkangwan The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s verdict which convicted him and sentenced him to one year of imprisonment without suspension. He was accused of posting a story about his sex life while being previously imprisoned. The court found it obscene and not a criticism which can be made by a mature person. He has been incarcerated at the Bangkok Remand Prison since 19 April 2022.33 His bail application was denied by the Supreme Court. Altogether, he has been remanded in custody for 11 days.

- Tantawan Tuatulanon had her bail revoked by the Criminal Court related to her live streaming during the royal motorcade and her Facebook posting. It was alleged that her participation in the royal motorcade aimed to cause public disturbance, similar to her Facebook posting. The court has yet reviewed other facts beyond what the police have given while Tawan and her attorney had not been aware of this hearing. She was then transferred to the Central Women’s Correctional Institution immediately, even her attorneys had yet to apply for her bail. Tawan has been incarcerated since 20 April 2022 and started her hunger strike the same day, for ten days.

- Sombat Thongyoi The South Bangkok Criminal Court convicted him for an offence against the Penal Code’s Section 112 and the Computer Crimes Act’s Section 14 (1) and (3) for posting the phrase #verybrave #verygood #thankyou” with a captured image of news from Matichon about the refusal of Thammasat University’s graduates and the whole faculty to participate in the graduation ceremony on 30 October 2020. The other two phrases deemed offensive were about how one gets so close to the people by signing an autograph, posted on 2 November 2020. He was sentenced for an offence on two counts, three years for each, altogether six years. He has been incarcerated at the Bangkok Remand Prison since 28 April, as his bail applications have been denied by the Court of Appeals. Altogether, he has been remanded in custody for 2 days.

# Situation of harassment

Despite an absence of large-scale rallies, an act of harassment against the public has continued unabated At least 36 individuals have been a target of harassment due to various reasons as follows;

# Harassment during the visits of VIPs

At least 15 activists were harassed for the reason. Tantawan Tuatulanon was verbally abused by the yellow shirt people while waiting for the arrival of the King. She was barred from joining the waiting crowd as the authorities claimed she was on their watchlist. Members of the public and activists in Ubonratchathani and Si Sa Ket have been followed and have their photographs taken by the officials and subject to an inquiry and were told to stay away from any action prior to the arrival of King Rama X to Ubon. It was reported that two activists from the Free Ubon \who were taking photo the crowd awaiting the arrival of the King as citizen journalists were placed under arrest and driven in police vehicles from the Juvenile Court Intersection to the Warin Police Station without clear reasons. They were held in custody for nearly three hours before let go with no charges. An activist in Surin revealed how two plainclothes police officials from the Sikhoraphum Police Station have gone to his house and taken his photo. They claimed they were just driving by and decided to make a stop just to say hello. The activist revealed how the police often come see him, every time there is a forthcoming visit of VIPs.

Due to the visits to Songkhla and Phatthalung of General Prayut Chan-ocha, at least seven local activists had the police visit them at home. Supphakorn revealed that nearly ten plainclothes police officials came twice to his grandmother’s house in Phatthalung which was not his current home to ask about him. It has caused concern for his grandmother. He also revealed how at least ten of his friends in Songkhla, Phatthalung and Trang have encountered such harassment by the police. ‘Bell’, an 18-year-old-activist said that plainclothes police came to ask for a talk with him at his home. He was also held in custody in a coffee place unlawfully for nearly two hours to prevent him from handing a letter of petition to the Prime Minister. In addition, family members of an activist were threatened that “You must watch your child out, otherwise, you get screwed up.” Similarly, when Gen Prawit Wongsuwan made a visit to Buang Si Fai, Phichit, at least three political activists in the province have seen the police visiting them at home. One of them, Champ saw the police stayed on guard in front of his house three days in a row. They also went inside to talk with his mom from time to time trying to convince her to tell him to meet outside with the police. They also wanted to take his photo. He felt he was being treated as a “criminal”.

# Harassment during political activism

On 15 April, the Draconis Revolution announced its action to wait for the royal motorcade in the afternoon. This has led to at least six injuries from the harassment by the authorities. Pink (pseudonym), 13 and two other youth, 16 and 17, were apprehended by two dozen of police officials and officials from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) while they were eating in McDonald's close to the Democracy Monument. Then, the women crowd control police have held Pink in custody and drove her away in a police van toward the MSDHS. After Pink, two other youth were apprehended at McDonald's and transferred to MSDHS as well. Then, the three of them were taken to the Royal Thai Police Sports Club. After preparing a daily record, the police allowed the three youth to leave without charging them. The 17-year-old-youth has informed us detail of the apprehension. She admitted that the unlawful action by the officials has left a scar in her heart. It exacerbated the mental health problem she had been suffering.

In the same incidence, there were clashes between the people who wanted to break through the police barrier to participate in the crowd awaiting the royal motorcade at Saphan Khao. At least three individuals got injured including Tantawan Tuatulanon who sustained a bruise on her face. One independent reporter was dragged away by the police and pinned down to the ground while his phone and the tripod hit the ground. A 22-year-old member of the public reported that as the police formed a blockade, he told them he wanted to wait to pay homage to the King. The officials asked him back “Are you funking waiting to greet the King?” He was then dragged to behind the police barrier where a police vehicle was pulled over. He got stomped on his head causing him to break and lose his glasses. He clearly sustained bodily injuries with broken lips and red strip on his neck. After the activity, it was reported that Nutthaphon, another independent reported was attached by four unknown Thai men in tight outfits. They hit him on his eyebrow at the McDonald's near the Democracy Monument around 21.35. Prior to that, the four men approached him and asked to see pictures in Nutthaphon’s phone, although he refused to concede to their demand and as a result of which he was attacked.

Khon Kaen activist organized the Thai New Year, and the Bloom of Democracy with a water pouring ceremony at the Democracy Monument to ensue democracy will flourish with some games and water festival and sound system car. During the activity, police from the Muang Khon Kaen Police Station were there to monitor the situation. Several carried with them tasers and warned the participants to not throw water at other persons, and then left the scene.

Burin Intin just served his prison sentence for an offence against Section 112. He was slapped on his face by a unknown man on Khao San Rd. while flashing his three fingers and saying that “What do you want from me?”. This happened without the police’s harassment.

Nevertheless, there were reports of youth activists who were harassed even though they were not going to do anything. Thanruthai, 16, from the Feminist’s Liberation Front was nabbed and taken to the Phra Racha Wang Police Station as she was found to have a sign that read “Long Live His Majesty” in her pocket. She has not pulled it out yet. The police claimed they needed to prepare a personal record of her and would let her go afterward with no charge. She decided to cooperate and just walked out from the police station. In addition, On Chakri Memorial Day, it was reported that several people were followed by the police inside and outside Bangkok. Some police have gone to the individuals’ workplaces and asked if they worked there. Some have gone to their families and asked where the activists were and told their parents to prevent them from participating in today’s activity.

# Harassment for unknown reasons

Kanruthai “Eye” Klai-on was tricked by eight men who claimed to have been Special Branch officials to come outside her room. They claimed that her Facebook posts could be culpable of Section 112 and the Computer Crimes Act and wanted to negotiate and to warn her against posting such messages again as well as to have her deactivate her Facebook account. She was then taken to the Lat Prao Police Station and was threatened that “If you refused to do, we would abduct you.” Upon arrival at the police station, the men found a lot of reporters and people were waiting there, around ten of them and more people were coming. The police then decided to leave her there and drove away. When she went to ask inside the police station about this, they said they knew nothing about it. Eye thus asked to police to put information of the incidence in a record there.

Phimchanok Jaihong received several Facebook notifications on her phone asking here to reset her password. It prompted her to suspect that her account has been hacked. Supriya “Sand” Jaikaew, former activist of Free Chiang Rai revealed that in the middle of April, four or five plainclothes and uniform police officials came in two private sedans and conducted a search of her house according to her official address in Chiang Rai. Without either search or arrest warrant, and without revealing the reasons, they took photo of her house and went inside to inspect her house. Sitanan Satsaksit, Wanchalearm’s sister, was on the “watchlist” (red status). Her attorney sent a letter to the Royal Thai Police asking them to investigate who has prepared the watchlist and to stop prosecuting people who have come out to express themselves and participate in a public activity.

Pongphak Saingamya revealed that early this month, the officials had looked for him at his house according to his house registration in Suphaburi for three times. They asked for him and took photo of his house. The last time, the police officials clad in full official uniform came to ask him to participate in the crowd waiting for the royal motorcade on 3 April 2022. Prinya Thaewanarumitkul was approached and inquired by the police after Thammasat University allowed the Move Forward Party to hold its annual meeting in the university.

The Phayathai Police Station asked to revoke passports of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Piyabutr Saengkanakkul and Pannika Wanich accusing them of being alleged offenders against the Penal Code’s Section 116. The police asked to have their passports revoked even though the cases against them have not been prosecuted and there was no judicial sanction to bar them from leaving the country.

# Trend of harassment in May

From the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)’s documentation of harassment during March – April 2022, at least 66 including eight youth have been a target of harassment. Among them was a girl of 13 years old. This has sent the number of persons subject to harassment and surveillance of the authorities in 2022 to soar to at least 149 including 15 youth. Several have to face such harassment multiple times. Just in April, at least four youth faced harassment, mostly as a result of their participating in political activities and some youth faced harassment simply for carrying a sign that read “Long Live the King” in the pocket.

Police asides, some activists face harassment committed by members of the public who were enraged by their act of expression. The dissenters faced being swear words, being called out, or being physically assaulted including the action of officials from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS). This has begged questions of the action by the authority has been carried out in compliance with legal safeguard to protect the rights of the child or the youth or not. It has been reported that restriction of other rights have occurred including the revocation of passports, being included in a watchlist, or even university administration being subject to an inquiry simply for allowing opposition party to use their premises.

Public harassment has continued unabated, particularly against activists who have been advocating for royal reform and the harassment in May tends to increase. It has happened even with some political activities organized by small groups or even by one person alone on royal reform issues and they have been subject to surveillance of the authorities. Similarly, the number of individuals politically charged for offending the monarchy has increased to almost 200 individuals. The rise of such harassment may have stemmed from a lesser number of public assembles. This has prompted the police to reassign their forces to harass activists to deter any attempt to organize political activities in the future.