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

Chana La

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

# Overall situation of public assemblies

In June 2022, despite the Thai government’s relaxation of Covid-19 responses, i.e., the Government Gazette’s regulations to ease up requirement on mandatory face mask or clothe mask wearing throughout the Kingdom and allowing voluntary face covering, the government continued to extend the declaration of the Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005) for the 18th time from 1 June-31 July 2022. Similarly, the Emergency Decree has still be invoked to criminalize freedom of expression and freedom of public assembly. According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), despite the more relaxed Covid-19 restriction, more than 21 individuals who have exercised their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly have been charged in nine cases. Even though the courts tend to dismiss cases related to the Emergency Decree, but such prosecutions have incurred burden on many people.

Until now, the government has invoked the pandemic as a reason to curb freedom of expression and public assembly. By claiming that, “the Covid-19 pandemic is a situation that compromises public order and public safety and warrants strict and urgent response to prevent the spread of the infection,” various disease control measures have been meted out and it has affected the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. For example, a ban on public gathering has been imposed followed by the invocation of the Emergency Decree to criminalize individuals who have exercised their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly constantly. As a result, 12 more individuals have been charged for exercising freedom of assembly and expression including a violation of the Emergency Decree in 11 cases. Altogether, 1,464 individuals are being charged in 642 cases.

@Chana La

In June 2022, at least 86 public assemblies and expressions have been organized throughout the country. At least 52 activities of symbolic expression have been organized to demand the right to bail of political activists who have been remanded in custody including 29 activities of Stand, Stop, Imprison by Resistant Citizen. This was the third resumption of such activity which started since 6 May 2022 in front of the Supreme Court. The We, The People held four activities at Tha Phae Gate in Chiang Mai, and another three activities in Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya. Such activities were a direct response to this month’s soaring incarcerations of political activists in prison. More than 14 individuals have been arrested and denied bail for the public assemblies during 11-20 June in Din Daeng including those remanded for exercising freedom of expression for an offence against the Penal Code’s Section 112. As a result, there are at least 22 individuals being remanded in custody, five of whom for an against Section 112. In addition, given the sheer stress and anxiety, some of them have harmed themselves to protest the denial of their right to bail. Two of them cut their aims to calling for the right to bail while another one overdosed tranquilizer pills. Later, the Department of Corrections explained that the arm cutting was caused by stress due to a lack of visit of attorney.

@Faozee

Bung and Bai Por who have been remanded in custody since 3 May for exercising freedom of expression through conducting street polls on royal motorcade, has started their hunger strike to demand the right to bail since 3 June 2022. Their health condition has critically deteriorated. Lately, Bung suffered from potassium deficiency and lost 13 kilograms of weight and was eventually admitted for treatment in the Department of Corrections Hospital while Bai Por lost six kilograms. On 7 July 2022, the South Bangkok Criminal Court continued to deny them bail even after taking more evidence from other witnesses as the court maintained that the Department of Corrections was still able to look after the ailment of both persons.3 Until 30 June 2022, both have been detained pretrial for 58 days and were in 30 days of their hunger strike.

@faozee

@gun_sangtong

On the 5th June 2022, Naruemit Pride 2022 was organised by a coalition of non-governmental groups with the city's newly ratified Governor Chadchart Sittipunt while it marked the first Bangkok Pride Parade since 2006

Since this month marked the celebration of pride of LGBTI+, at least seven public assemblies and expression of LGBTI+ have been organized throughout the country. On 5 June, the Bangkok's "Naruemit Pride 2022" (opens new window) was held the rally from Silom22 Road to BTS the Sala Daeng with the attendance around 3,000 – 5,000 persons. It was the first pride march in Bangkok as well. In Songkhla, the Songkhla Naruemit Pride was held on 26 June (opens new window) with the procession from the old fortress to Chalatat Beach with the attendance of at least 200 persons. In some provinces, the activities were held in universities. In Khon Kaen, the students also organized the E-san Pride March in the Khon Kaen University with the attendance of at least 200 persons, similar to in Ubonratchathani. The LGBTI+ activities have spread to various areas and last to until early July such as in Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen.

@Chana La

The moment when LGBTI+ gathered in front of Parliament and showed gratitude when Thailand’s House of Representatives passed the four drafts including The Civil Partnership Bill led by the cabinet and Marriage Equality Bill led by Move Forward Party.

The street activities to advocate for LGBTI+ asides, this month saw the adoption in its first reading of four bills to promote gender equality in the House of Representatives on 15 June 2022. This includes the two drafts of Civil and Commercial Code Amendment Act including the Equal Marriage Bill proposed by the Move Forward Party and another similar bill proposed by the cabinet, and the two drafts of the Civil Partnership Bill proposed by the cabinet and the Democrat Party. After the review by the Special Vetting Committee, the Bills will further be read in the House of Representatives and the Senate. This symbolizes a good sign for the prospect of having a law to uphold rights of LGBTI+. It remains to keep an eye on the process and the result, however.

@Chana La

To celebrate the 90th anniversary of National Day on 24 June, at least six activities have been organized. The Ratsadon organized a march from the Democracy Monument to Lan Khon Mueang Town Square while the Thaluwang conducted a street poll on “After 90 years of democracy, have rights and freedoms been genuinely realized?” (opens new window) in Chiang Mai, Ubonratchathani University, Ubonratchathani. Khon Kaen also conducted activities to celebrate National Day and there were reports that in Khon Kaen, the police have approached the activists asking about some banners which contained statements concerning the monarchy and the police also took photo of each individual reporter.

@Chana La

@Ginger Cat

On 11 June 2022, the pro-democracy group gathered at the Victory Monument marching to the PM house 1st Infantry Regiment barracks on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road. After the acitivity finished, some of independent protestor started to threw firecraker to the police. The police used a number of police to block including using the rubber bullet and teargas against the approximate 10-20 independent protestor.

On 18-19 June 2022, during the march at the Royal Thai Police, the police have a huge sign with the texts such as "your action is illegal" and " stop assemble for unlawful purposes". Morover, near Din Daeng intersection, the obsever reported that there is a sign that include Gazette of emergency decree.

Despite a smaller attendance and number of public assemblies, political grudge has prompted people to gather in Din Daeng again during 11- 19 June. It has led to crowd dispersal by the police on 11 June with the firing of rubber bullets and teargas. (opens new window) At least 17 participants were placed under arrest and have arrest warrants served against them including four youth. 11 more individuals have, as a result, been remanded in custody related to the assemblies during the time. This attests to a more aggressive response by the state against the protesters in Din Daeng. In addition, it was found the authorities have expanded their perimeter of operation in Din Daeng area and invoked various laws to prevent the participants from entering the area including the Public Assembly Act 2005 and the Emergency Decree.

# Trend of upcoming public assembly

It should be noted that despite the weakening force of the recent public assemblies, the authorities continued to invoke power of the Emergency Decree to stringently crack down on the participants including by denying them bail during the police inquiry level. It has resulted in the soaring number of individuals being remanded in custody in political cases and how lawfare occurs against those who have exercised their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. It explains why despite a declining number of public assemblies, the number of legal cases continue to rise.

# Update on harassment of the people in June 2022

In June, reports of harassment against the public have decreased from May, probably as a result of the public assemblies in Din Daeng from 11-15 June which faced a crackdown by the police who fired both teargas and rubber bullets. At least 17 individuals including four youth were arrested during the assemblies. 11 more individuals have been remanded in custody. All of them showed signs of stress. One person conducted hunger strike to demand the right to bail while three others attempted suicide. We need to stay vigilant to the situation. However, it has been disclosed that at least eight individuals including one youth have encountered acts of harassment due to various reasons as follows;

# Harassment during Political Activism

24 June marks an important day of political significance. Activities were organized to celebrate the Siam Revolution in various provinces. The organizers have been subject to harassment by the police. For example, after a banner which read “This country belongs to the people” was found to be hung on an old building at Muang Hit Intersection in Phrae that morning, the police have approached the caretakers of the building and asked for the removal of the banner. At Bung Si Than, Khon Kaen University, Khon Kaen activists celebrated the 90th anniversary of democracy with music performance and speeches to commemorate the Six Principles of the People's Party (Khana Ratsadon) in the present context. Attendants were encouraged to sign on a petition to demand the repeal of Section 112 and to unlock local administration. Prior to the start of event, the Superintendent of the Moung Khon Kaen Police Station has arrived with police forces to remind them to not show any banners and make any speeches which may violate the law.

# Harassment for Unknown Reasons

Early June, Suppakorn, aka “Nueng”, member of Ratsadon Chaiyaphum posted that the police wanted to meet him on 3 June, and he was invited for a coffee. Tack from Si Sa Ket reported that the police have regularly gone to his home claiming since he showed his support to the Move Forward Party and its monarchy reform, they had to send some officers there to watch him. On 6 June, activists from the Commoners Party in Phrae reported of the police visit to their home without known reasons. Get Mok Luang reported that the officers keep watching his house after he has been bailed out and supposed to stay at home 24 hours except for other necessities related to his education and jobs. Activists from the Khon Khon Ja Mai Thon were followed and stalked by police after reports that #Prawit was to visit the South. It was only explained to them that “our superior officers ordered us to do this."

# Harassment in Educational Institutions relevant to Freedom of Expression.

It was reports in Kanlayanee Si Thammarat School, a student was summoned to meet with teacher in charge of discipline for their failure to pay respect and to sign the royal anthem. They even threatened to transfer the student to other school for failing to behave like other fellow students.

Trend of harassment

As the public assemblies have intensified, it was reported that number of new victims of harassment has declined. The persons who frequently face harassment are typical activists who have been under their surveillance. The most common harassment was home visit and privacy violation. In addition, there have been reports of children and youth being harassed every month. Therefore, whether the harassment in July will increase or decrease, it is dependent very much on key factors including the number of public assemblies.

The political prosecutions continue to intensify with the number of individuals charged for violating Section 112 rose to at least 203. Despite no new indictments, at least four children and youth continued to be placed under arrest during the assemblies from 11-15 June. Meanwhile, the number of individuals being remanded in custody in political cases has risen to at least 22.

Since the Free Youth led public assemblies on 18 July 2020 until 30 April 2022, at least 1,832 individuals have been charged for participating in public assemblies or expressing their political opinions in 1,095 cases. Of this, 282 are youth under 18 years of age. Compared with the case stats from the end of May 2022, 19 new individuals have been charged in 21 cases (counting only those who have never been charged before.) Altogether, there have been at least 3,641 legal actions against the individuals although some of them are charged for multiple offences.

Cases that warrant monitoring this month include the case against Thanapol Eawsakul, editor-in-chief of Same Sky Books. The police raided and arrested him for an offence concerning the disclosure of secret documents concerning national safety, the Penal Code’s Sections 123, 124 and 128 and the Computer Crime Act’s Section 14(3) for posting a copy of letter from the National Security Council in November 2020. The document reveals how the Special Branch police was instructed to follow and surveil background of “Ambassador Ras” of the “The Alternative Ambassador” page to prepare an Information Operation (IO). In addition, Provincial Governors countrywide were secretly instructed to organize activities to show their loyalty to the monarchy regularly. Such charges were unprecedented and have never been used for harassment. It has led to a question if the disclosure of government documents and the instruction for public authorities to surveil personal information of the people or the mobilization of public agencies to organize activities contrary to the popular campaign, could constitute an “offence” against the laws or not.

Detail of key offences can be described as follows;

1. “Lese majeste” offence pursuant to the Penal Code’s Section112, at least 203 suspects in 218 cases May saw new eight suspects in seven cases.

This month, a verdict was delivered on the case against Punnaphat (not real name) on an offence against Section 112 and the Computer Crime Act for posting four Facebook messages in “Royalist Marketplace’ group during 9-10 May 2020.

Another person was sentenced to jail. Methin was accused of mentioning name of King Rama X while he was having a quarrel with another person who had a traffic accident with his motorcycle the middle of the night of 7 February 2022.

2. “Sedition” pursuant to the Penal Code’s Section116, at least 125 suspects in 39 cases

This month saw the indictment of Attapon Buapat and Chukiat Sangwong for their speeches at the “Kathin Rat Talad Luang” event in the city of Ubonratchathani on 22 October 2020.

3. An offence against the Emergency Decree, at least 1,464 suspects in 642 cases (since May 2020)

Although more public activities have been allowed domestically as the government has relaxed the restriction on Covid-19, the prosecution on the Emergency Decree against the protesters continued unabetted. This has made the number of suspect soar to at least 21 individuals in nine cases (some have been charged before.)

During 11-15 June, public assemblies were organized by the Thalugaz in Din Daeng prompting the firing of rubber bullets and teargas to disperse the crowd and altogether 17 participants have been placed under arrest including four youth such as;

  • The #Mob11June22 or #RatsadonMarchingToOustToo, on that day, two participants were arrested and brought to the Narcotics Suppression Bureau including Alex Somphon (last name withheld), 55 years who was brought for arraignment and granted bail, and another youth who was arrested and then released without charges. Six individuals were accused of pounding on and setting fire on police vehicle. They were charged for violating the Emergency Decree and the Penal Code’s Sections 215-216, illegal assembly of more than ten persons and upward, causing public disturbance, and failing to disband after being instructed by the competent officials, the Penal Code’s Section 217 for setting fire and causing damage to property of other person, and the Penal Code’s Section 358 for mischief. The six of them include Sawang (not real name) and Mankhong (not real name), 17 and 16, respectively. On the same day, Watcharaphon turned himself in pursuant to the arrest warrant and was remanded in custody. Two other youth were granted bail. Later, Jatuphon (last name withheld), 18 years, was arrested for the same incidence and has been remanded in custody since 16 June. Nuttaphon, 19 years, was issued with arrest warrant and decided to turn himself in. Polpol, 20 years, was aware that no arrest warrant had been issued against him, but the police also pressed with charges from the same incidence. As to those participating in the public assembly on 11 June, three more of them were pressed with charges for the violation of the Penal Code’s Sections 215-216.
  • Following the public assembly on 14 June in Din Daeng, nine individuals have been charged, eight of whom have been issued with arrest warrants including Sasalak, Pichai, Baiboon, Somchai, Akkharaphon, Threerawich, Nueng and Worawuth. “Ice”, 15-year-old youth was spared form the arrest warrant, although his name was included in list the police wanted to take action. He has therefore turned himself in to answer to the charges. Two participants in public assembly #Mob11June were pressed with charges. The police referred to these participants as troublemakers. The last case was concerned with setting fire on tires during the public assembly in Din Daeng on 15 June 2022. Putthipong, 25, one of the persons charged and issued with arrest warrant has turned himself in.

Nevertheless, the Court denied bail of 11 suspects including Nutthaphon, Polpol, Sasalak, Pichai, Baiboon, Somchai, Akkharaphon, Threerawich, Nueng, Worawuth and Putthipong. They were all transferred to their remand in custody at the Bangkok Remand Prison.20 Later, “Rock” Thanarat (last name withheld), 18, and Oil (last name withheld), 17**,** were arrested in relation to the public assembly #Mob19June22 or “Car Mob to Prayut’s House” in Din Daeng and later pressed with six charges. Oil suffered a 3-cn-long abrasive wound on his right arm whereas Rock was found during medical checkup to sustain a wound on his right elbow. Both reported that the wounds have been inflicted by the crowd control police who forcibly dragged them from their motorcycles and pinned them to the ground. They even stamp their feet once on them. Oil was allowed to post bail by the Juvenile and Family Court whereas Rock was remanded in custody at the Bangkok Remand Prison on 20 June. In total, 14 suspects from Thalugaz are being remanded in custody and all of them show signs of stress. Some have attempted suicide. Threerawich has been on a hunger strike. He was so weak that he had to crawl instead of walking. He was also tested positive for Covid-19 in prison. Polpol has attempted suicide by taking in 64 paracetamol pills. Putthipong and Baiboon have also attempted suicide cutting their wrists with sardine cans.

As to other cases concerning the Emergency Decree, the Court has dismissed four of them including the case against Werawit “Sak” Rungruengsiriphon, 62, related to his participation in the public assembly on 21 October 2020. The Court found the public assembly peaceful and unarmed and was an exercise of rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. In the 1 August 2021 Korat Car Mob case, there were altogether four defendants including Worapong Somatcha and Kittipong Pansoong who pled not guilty and insisted on fighting the charges. The Court found the prosecution witnesses carried not enough weight to establish that the defendants were organizers of the public assembly, and therefore, they were not required to seek permission. There was also no evidence that any tested positive from participating in the public assembly. In the case against Makarapong “Ter” Sapprasert and Waranyu “Book” Khongsathitthamm related to the Korat Movement’s public assembly in front of the Provincial Police Region 3 on 7 August 2021, the Court found that the prosecution evidence failed to establish that the defendants were organizers of the public assembly pursuant to the Emergency Decree’s Section 9. In the case against Aphisit Promrit, 45, the Progressive Movement’s former candidate in Kamphaeng Phet Provincial Administration Organization for his participation in the #KamphaengPhetBearItNoMore Car Mob, the Court acquitted him citing that a public assembly which could be culpable must affect national security. In addition, according to the Public Assembly Act’s Section 3 (6), the law shall not apply while the Emergency Decree is imposed.

In addition, the public prosecutors decided not to indict Chanchai Putrangsi and Ekkachai Hongkangwan for their observing the public assembly of the #MobThalugaz in Din Daeng on 23 August 2021 since there was no evidence to establish that both suspects were owners or related to the “Thalugaz Youth” Facebook page and no witnesses could be found to ascertain that both were organizers of the public assembly. Also, the public assembly’s objectives were related to politics rather than to spread the disease and the assembly site was not crowded.

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 136 suspects in 155 cases

6. A contempt of court, at least 38 suspects in 18 cases, and insult of the court, at least 25 suspects in 6 cases

From January to June 2022, regardless of the number of public assemblies have decreased or increased, the prosecutions of activists continue to be worth monitoring. Even though new suspects have not increased much, but activists or those being “targeted” by the authorities continue to be summoned to answer to new charges unabetted. Even though the first half of year did not see a single mass rally, there have been various formats of activities held continuously including symbolic actions attended by a few people. Such activities continue to warrant attention from the authorities.

One of the most common charges to criminalize participants in public assemblies is the violation of the Emergency Decree, which at present has been extended for the 18th time to until 31 July 2022. The law has thus continually been used to stifle the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and it remains to be seen if the Emergency Decree will be extended again in July or not.

For the Emergency Decree cases the defendants decided to fight, the Court tends to dismiss such cases. Otherwise, the public prosecutor would likely decide not to prosecute such cases citing the inability to establish if the suspects were organizers of the public assembly, or the public assembly venues were outdoor, not crowded, pose no risk to spread the disease, and the right to participate in a public assembly is guaranteed in the Constitution. In cases the defendants were found guilty, the Court tends to impose lenient punishment, for example, the #Mob2Nov20 case at Tha Phra MRT (indicted for violating the Emergency Decree and the Public Assembly Act) and the #Mob15April #PouringWaterOnPrayut’sHead case against the Thalu Fah in front of the Government House. The court proceedings, however, could take years to finish. It has incurred much burden on the activists several of whom face a dozen of charges.

According to the documentation of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) in the first half of year, 18 cases have either been dismissed by the court or not prosecuted by the public prosecutor. Even though this represents a fraction of cases against the Emergency Decree pending in the court, but it does reflect an interesting trend of ruling. It should also be noted that most of such cases of acquittal are concerned with public assemblies in the province, or cases in which the defendants were not prominent organizers of the public assemblies. In July, the Court will rule on cases concerning the Emergency Decree including the case against Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Jutatip “Oue” Sirikhan related to the #SaveWanchalearm to demand justice for the abducted Wanchalearm Satsaksit in front of the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre on 5 June 2563. It is worth monitoring if the rulings in cases against core members of the Ratsadon will be dismissed like other cases or not.

Cases that have constantly been filed with the Court and there has yet been any decision to not prosecute by the public prosecutor are concerned with the “lese majeste” offence pursuant to the Penal Code’s Section 112. There are at least 203 suspects in 218 cases for the offence. On this, 111 cases are related to online expression, and 101 cases which have been reported by members of the public. 17 youth under 18 years of age have been criminalized on this charge in 20 cases.

Apart from being a common case tried in court, several individuals charged against Section 112 have been remanded in prison every month. Some have been bailed out for a short period of time including Tantawan Tuatulanon and Sophon “Get” Surariddhidhamrong, although they are subject to restriction of fundamental rights including having to wear EM and being subject to house arrest 24 hours except when there is any necessity or permission obtained from court.