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

Chana La

# Overall situation of public assemblies

The Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005) was still declared during 1 August - 31 SEPTEMBER 2022, the 19th extension of the declaration. In addition, the Government Gazette published the Announcement of the Chief Officer in charge of the Resolution of the State of Emergency concerning National Security on the prohibition of activities and illegal assemblies which may likely help to spread the Covid-19 pandemic no. 15 (Announcement of the Chief Officer no. 15). In the Announcement, a prohibition of public assembly is put in place and procedure concerning the organization and notification of public assembly pursuant to the Public Assembly Act 2015 is imposed. Any violation of the provision can lead to a punishment prescribed in the Emergency Decree. Meanwhile, there has been an uptick in the number of individuals prosecuted for violating the Emergency Decree despite recent absence of large-scale public assemblies. Since May 2020, 1,467 individuals have been charged for the violation of the law in 647 cases.

In August 2022, at least 83 public assemblies and acts of expression have been organized throughout the country. At least 44 activities of symbolic expression have been organized to demand the right to bail of political activists who have been remanded in custody. On 27 July 2022 on a day of action, more than 24 such activities were held throughout the country.

Other groups have been conducting the activity regularly including the Resistant Citizen which has held it for 108th time and the We, The People which has held it for the 18th week successively at Tha Phae Gate, Chiang Mai. Similar activities have been held in other areas including the Stand Stop Imprisonment in Ubonratchathani at the entrance of Ubonratchathani University, the Stand Stop Imprisonment in Nakhon Pathom at the Silpakon University. Such activities were a direct response to this month’s soaring pretrial incarcerations of political activists in prison including 29 this month.

Public assemblies have also been held to demand other issues including;

Demanding the resignation of the government, at least 21: This is due to the tenure as Prime Minister of General Prayut Chan-ocha which has reached eight years and according to the Constitution 2017, the PM is only allowed to stay in office for at most eight years. If it is counted from the time of the military coup and his ascension to the premiership on 24 August 2557, his tenure should reach the term limit on 24 August, People’s sectors in various provinces have thus expressed themselves and staged public assemblies to put press on the issue. On 24 August 2022, at least 14 such public assemblies were held countrywide to demand his resignation as PM including in various universities such as Chulalongkorn University where a street poll was conducted to ask pedestrians if “Is eight years enough?” or at Thammsat University where the students gave speeches to mark the eight-year-term limit of Prayut on 24 August 2022. This happened in other regions including in Lampang, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Udonthani.

As to movement in politics, a coalition of opposition MPs have filed a motion with the House Speaker, Chuan Leekpai, to ask the Constitutional Court to rule if the eight-year-term limit of General Prayut Chan-ocha has expired on the past 23 August or not. Later, on 24 August 2022, the Constitutional Court accepted to review the motion filed by the opposition MPs who asked them to rule on the tenure as PM of General Prayut Chan-ocha. Meanwhile, the court has suspended him from acting as PM as a result of which Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan has temporarily succeeded him as Acting PM. The court is scheduled to reliver its verdict on 30 September 2022.

Pro-democracy groups are holding a rally at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus to commemorate the second anniversary of the August 10th, 2020 protest in which the ten demands for reform of the monarchy were made.

Issues concerning the economy, land, and indigenous peoples, at least 10: For example, during 23-24 August 2022, the Northern Peasant Federation (NPF) and the People’s Network of Peasants and Ethnic Minorities Affected by the Law staged a public assembly at the Le Méridien Chiang Mai Hotel to put forward their seven demands to address land and forest issues in the letter handed to the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Varawut Silpa-archa. They asked the Minister to raise the issues during the 5th APEC Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Forestry held from 23-25 August. On 24 August 2022, while they were preparing to march in two parallel lines, they were confronted with the police roadblock with steel barriers to prevent them from reaching the area in front of the hotel. The protesters therefore tried to push through the barriers at the resistance of the officers giving rise to a small clash between the two parties.

At least eight public assemblies were held on other issues, domestically and internationally, such as on 8 August 2022 at Tha Phae Gate, Chiang Mai, an activity was organized to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the Myanmar’s 8888 Uprising and on 16 August 2022 at the Din Daeng Police Station, a vigil was held to mark the first anniversary of the killing on a young protester.

Despite the unlikely trend of large-scale public assemblies, several other rights related public assemblies have still been organized. Many individuals involved with them have been charged, particularly those political dissenters. Nevertheless, given the volatile political situation in September including the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the term limit of General Prayut Chan-ocha, many things remain to be seen.

Update on harassment of the people in August 2022

August saw an increase of reported incidences of harassment, most of which have been conducted by the officials. In addition, harassment was inflicted on at least three children and youth including to prevent them from expressing their political views in their educational institution. Reasons for such harassment can be described as follows;

Harassment during visits of VIPs

Tam Puy Doo Facebook Page reported that those who used to participate in public assemblies of Thalugaz were stopped at checkpoint by Kanchanaburi’s police and were held in custody at the Kanchanaburi Police Station without warrant. It could be related to the upcoming visit of General Prayut to Kanchanaburi on that day even though none of them planned anything on that day.

Harassment during political activism

The Northern Peasant Federation (NPF) planned to stage a protest of people affected by forest and land policies in Chiang Mai. The police reportedly tried to tell them to stay clear of the area in front of the Le Méridien Chiang Mai Hotel which was being used as a meeting venue supposedly to uphold tourism image. In addition, the police tried to hold in custody three protesters, and later let them go. At the Democracy Monument in Khon Kaen, a group of protesters launched a press statement on the Constitutional Court’s ruling to suspend General Prayut Chan-ocha from performing his PM roles and accepting to review his term limit case. The police were looking for any sign featuring messages about the monarchy. They were pushed out from the area, since they could not explain how certain signs might break the law. Goats in Kubor’s three artists were nabbed by Bang Sue Police Station’s police detectives to register their personal information following posting of 40 Prayut stickers with caption “Time up 8 years of Illegal PM” before being released and were later asked to pay 1,000 baht for a fine.

As to harassment against youth, Anna and Pink, youth activists, have tried to participate in a merit making ceremony and to offer alms to 101 Buddhist monks in honor of the Queen Mother. During the ceremony, Anna asked for permission to enter the area to participate in the merit making ceremony prepared by the government but was denied. She was told the activity was reserved exclusively for VIPs and the police kept a watch on the two of them all the time. Since Anna refused to vacate the area, the police forced her into a police vehicle and drove her away from Sanam Luang. It was revealed by Anna later that during her presence at the ceremony, the police seized her phone while she was livestreaming. They only returned her the phone after removing her from the area. According to Anna, the seizure of her phone was executed without warrant and reasons. The KKC Student Appliance reported that at Kaen Nakhon School and Khon Kaen Wittayayon School in Khon Kaen, the students put up a sign that read #PrayutGovtMustReturnOurFuture and #PrayutGetOut before they were quickly removed by the school.

Harassment for unknown reasons

Apitcha “Fah”, member of the Ram Khamhaeng for Democracy Network, was visited by the police at her home in Ron Phibun District, Nakhon Si Thammarat in which older persons lived, although she did not live there for quite a while ago. The police tried to ask for her phone number from her grandmother and even threw some threatening word like “You grandchild will have a terrible future” and “She will soon lose her job”. In addition, the police criticized her grandmother for “Failing to tell your children to behave” and accused Fah and her grandmother of committing an act to infringe on the monarchy. An 18-years-old youth in Krabi was taken by the police for a talk at the Krabi Provincial Hall following their postings about the monarchy. It happened without warrant and non charge was pressed. The officials claimed it was only to warn the child. Luk Nang (pseudonym) were taken by 4-5 Special Branch police officials to the Special Branch Bureau. The person was asked to sign their name on an agreement to not post or share any post deemed critical of the monarchy in personal Facebook account. The agreement was not legally signed according to the law, and the child was held in custody for over seven hours.

Trend of harassment in September 2022

This month, 24 August 2022 is supposed to be the day Prayut has to vacate office according to the Constitution due to the term limit of eight years. This has prompted various groups to organize political activities on that day. Harassment was reportedly committed during the activities countrywide, even though some of them involved just hanging banners or posting stickers without large-scale rallies. Meanwhile, more youth activists have found themselves become a target of harassment due to their sharing of posts about the monarchy. As far as harassment in September is concerned, it appears all political activities have been subject to surveillance and opposition by the authorities and the issues concerning the monarchy continue to be a sensitive issue giving rise to harassment against people from all walks of life. Whether harassment will increase or decrease, it also depends on the number of activities held as well.

Update on legal cases in August 2022

From the documentation of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), since the Free Youth led public assemblies on 18 July 2020 until 31 August 2022, at least 1,853 individuals have been charged for participating in public assemblies or expressing their political opinions in 1,120 cases. Of this, 283 are youth (opens new window) under 18 years of age in 210 cases. At least 38 have been indicted in 37 cases. Compared with July 2022 (opens new window), 10 more individuals have been charged in 12 new cases (counting only those who have never been charged before.) Altogether, there have been at least 3,685 legal actions against the individuals although some of them are charged for multiple offences

Detail of key offences can be described as follows;

1. “Lese majeste” offence pursuant to the Penal Code’s Section112, at least 210 suspects in 228 cases including 17 minors in 20 cases. 11 cases have been prosecuted. Nevertheless, the number of cases prosecuted on Section 112 continues to rise. Non of them were not prosecuted by the public prosecutor. In addition, the number of arrest warrants executed against activists has been rising whilst their not being summoned before.

This month saw an increase of four suspects indicted in two cases while the number of suspects remanded in custody remain the same. Most of them have had the arrest warrants executed against them without not having been summoned before including Sophon “Get” Surariddhidhamrong and Mint for their speeches made during the “Untangling the history, 240 years, who killed King Taksin” on 6 April 2022 at the King Taksin Monument, Wong Wian Yai. In addition, the court conducted a hearing on the application to revoke bail of Mint for participating in the activity “Reclaiming energy for the people” (opens new window) organized by the Lom Ruam Prachachon Group on 3 July 2022 and dismissed it. Nevertheless, Mint was rearrested and charged in Section 112 case for the second time for posting her photo while holding a sign critical of the judicial proceedings in Section 112 cases in front of the South Bangkok Criminal Court in three posts. She was allowed to post bail with special conditions. Taem (pseudonym), a psychiatric patient, was indicted furthermore on Section 112 case for demolishing three portraits of His Majesty the King Rama X in Trakan Phuet Phon District on 6 November 2021 even though Team and his attorney have submitted a letter to ask the public prosecutor to indict him on the case. Mongkol “Bas” Theerakhot was arrested for posting two messages.

As to the trial proceeding, the court has still not issued a writ to summon documents concerning the travel to stay in Germany of King Rama X-monarchy budget as requested by the 22 defendants to establish their case in the Mob 19 September Reclaiming the People’s Power case, which has resulted in the rescheduling of hearings several times. Given the defendants are yet to receive the documents, the court has rescheduled the hearing to 20 September 2022.

August saw the ruling on Section 112 in at least 4 cases. In two such cases, the defendants pleaded guilty as charged including Om Chonlasit, for sharing a story of drawing of a man who looked alike to King Rama X in Facebook, albeit he decided to remove it within a few minutes. The court sentenced him to an imprisonment with two years of suspension. Private Methin was accused of referring to King Rama X during his heated exchange with driver of another car after a car accident in the middle of the night. The Military Court sentenced him to five years and given the benefit from his guilty plea, it was reduced to two years and six months without suspension. In the cases the defendants decided to fight the charge including Kalaya (pseudonym) for sharing four Facebook messages in two counts, the court convicted and sentenced her to three years of imprisonment for each count, altogether six years without suspension. Parinya ‘Port Fai Yen’ Cheewinkulpathom was indicted for posting a Facebook message that the coup in Turkey was unsuccessful since the King did not sign to certify it and two other messages in 2016. The court found him guilty for the three messages and sentenced him to three years of imprisonment for each count. Giving his evidence considered useful for the trial, the imprisonment was reduced by one third altogether to six years. The defendants in both cases were allowed to post bail pending the trial of the Court of Appeals. In September, rulings in two Section 112 cases will be made including the case against Jatuporn “New” Saeoueng for cladding in traditional Thai style dress during a public assembly #MyTax on 29 October 2020 on Silom Road, which is another case that is worth monitoring.

2. Sedition” pursuant to the Penal Code’s Section116, at least 126 suspects in 39 cases

This month saw another two cases prosecuted against Section 116 including the case against 13 student activists from the former New Democracy Movement (NDM) and Dao Din, during their public assembly to oppose the NCPO’s power in front of the Pathumwan police station on 24 June 2015 or over seven years since the incidence. Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sittijirawattanakul, Panupong “Mike” Chadnok, Anon Numpa, Nutchanon Pairote, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, and Chanin “Ball” Wongsri were indicted for the #ThammasatBearItNoMore protest on 10 August 2020 at the Naga Plaza, Thammsat University Rangsit Campus more than two years later citing the activity was detrimental to national security.

3. An offence against the Emergency Decree, at least 1,467 suspects in 647 cases (since May 2020)

Six more cases related to the Emergency Decree have been dismissed including the Sraburi Car Mob held on 1 August 2020, Car Mob in Surat Thani, aka “Surat Ratsadon Ousting Uncle Too” on 1 August 2020, Mob2Aug64 to demand the release of members of the Thalu Fah in front of the Border Patrol Police Region 1 on 2 August 2020, Supreeya “Sam” Jaikaew accused of being MC in public assembly #ChingRaiPeopleBoredOfFoolishPeopleShunningTheUnfaithful at the clock tower in Chiang Rai 25 July 2020, Ford The Red Path or Anurak Jeantawanich and other 8 individuals for holding a commemoration of the death of Major-General Khattiya Sawasdipol, aka “She Daeng” at the entrance of the MRT Silom station on 13 May 2020 and Car Mob Yala held on 7 August 2020. In dismissing the cases, the courts cited peaceful nature of the assembly according to the Constitution and not at risk of spreading disease.

In addition, the public prosecutor decided to not prosecute two more cases including the case against 8 individuals accused following their observation of the public assembly in Din Daeng Police on 11 September 2020 citing they were simply a target of police while posting no risk of spreading diseases. The public prosecutor has indicted 10 individuals and activists from Thalu Fah for traffic and public way obstruction following the Mob18Aug assembly to oust tyrannies at the Democracy Monument on 18 August 2020 without indicting them on the Emergency Decree like several others indicted in the same case previously.

This month also saw conviction made in two cases including the case against 8 individuals in the assembly on 11 August 2020 or #Mob11AugOustingTyrannies organized by the Thaly Fah at the Victory Monument. In the case, the court sentenced them to one year of imprisonment and a fine of 20,000 baht per person with suspension for three years, probation for two years, while acquitted them on charges concerning ten persons upwards being assembled together and resisting the performance of duties of competent officials. The court cited that given the objectives of the laws promulgated to maintain public order in society, that the eight defendants held a public assembly there was in itself an offence. In the case against Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat, Chukiat “Justin” Sangwong, and Nanthapong Panmat for holding an assembly in front of the Nation News office at the Bang Na Intersection on 1 November 2020, the court interpreted that ‘speakers” were “organizers” despite clear evidence and imposed them a fine in two cases for 12,900 baht. Nevertheless, on 22 September 2022, the court will rule on the Emergency Decree and traffic obstruction cases against Mimi Nutchakan for making a speech at the Mob15OctTo Ratchaprasong in 2020. It would mark the first verdict in a case in which a youth defendant fights the charge.

As to the Emergency Decree cases, altogether, at least 24 cases have been dismissed by the court and another 20 not prosecuted by the public prosecutor. The courts only convicted suspects in seven cases and mostly imposed a fine. It demonstrates how the law has been used by the authorities to suppress the protesters rather than to respond to Covid-19 and it has caused much burden for many people. Even though they were eventually\ acquitted, but they might have been subject to remand in custody for a long time. Sinburi Saenkla or Mag Thalu Fah was remanded in custody following his turning himself in per an arrest warrant even though he had not been summoned before. It involved his participation in an assembly on the 15th anniversary of the 2006 coup at Nang Lerng Intersection on 19 September 2020. 8 members of the Thalugaz were indicted while being remanded in prison for participating in a public assembly in Din Daeng in the middle of last June**.**

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 144 suspects in 165 cases

Wareeya Rojanamukda was indicted for posting in Facebook Page “Nakhon Phanomsibòrton” criticizing local politicians in Nakhon Phanom on the 15 anniversary of the 19 September coup in four posts this month. The court ruled on the case against Soraya Thanaputthasiri, for posting in Facebook that teargas could have been fired from within the premises of Boon Rawd Brewery company during the suppression of demonstration closer to the Parliament on 17 November 2020 and dismissed the case against her. And Wachira (last name withheld) was indicted for hacking and altering appearance of the Constitutional Court’s website whilst changing its name to ‘Kangaroo Court’ and even embedded a link to YouTube video of ‘Guillotine (It goes Yah)’ by Death Grips on 11 November 2020. The court convicted and sentenced him to three years. Given his guilty plea, it was reduced by a half to one year and six months without suspension. The court deems that he is obliged to pay for damage done to the system only, not the reputation of the court for ten million baht. He was then allowed to post bail.

6. A contempt of court, at least 36 suspects in 20 cases, and insult of the court, at least 27 suspects in 7 cases. It has been reported that Ngernta “Manee” Kamsaen and Jiratchaya “Jinny” Sakulthong was held in custody by the police executing warrants issued for contempt of court charges. This was related to the speeches made by them to criticize the court during the activity to demand the right to bail of Bung and Bai Por in front of the South Bangkok Civil Court on 15 July 2022. The court denied them bail citing their act constituted a grave dander to the court.

Of 1,120 cases, 219 have reached their final verdicts, many of which were petty offences settled by paying fine to the police or the court. The public prosecutor also decided to not prosecute 23 cases.

People remanded in custody while defending political charges

This month saw the release of four activists including Bai Por and Bung Netiphon after their attorneys have applied for their bail eight times and appeal the bail verdict once. Both have been released from the Central Women's Correctional Institution on 4 August 2022 ending the 94-day-incarceration and their 64-day-hunger-strike.Putthipong was accused of setting fire on tires during the assembly in Din Daeng on 15 June 2022. He has been remanded in custody since 17 June 2022 and was only released on 3 August 2022. Altogether, he was incarcerated for 48 days since the public prosecutor has failed to apply to extend his custody in time. Shinawatra ‘Bright’ Chankrachang was arrested from his home in Nonthaburi for making a speech in an activity to demand the right to bail of Bung and Bai Por in front of the South Bangkok Criminal Court on 28 July 2022. He was initially remanded in custody and released on 26 August 2022. Altogether, he was incarcerated for 26 days. Altogether, there are still 31 individuals remanded in custody in August.