Human Rights Watch welcomes Thai activists' release on bail

BUSABA SIVASOMBOON
·2-min read

BANGKOK (AP) — A leading human rights group on Saturday welcomed the release on bail of two Thai activists charged with insulting the country's monarchy, but repeated its contention that the apparent use of pretrial detention to punish anyone who criticizes the royal institution is unjust.

Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk were released Friday evening from Bangkok Remand Center. They had been held on lese majeste charges of defaming the monarchy in connection with their involvement in a political rally last September. They have also been charged with sedition and several minor offenses.

Lese majeste carries a penalty of three to 15 years imprisonment.

The legal assistance group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said the two men each posted 200,000 baht ($6,400) bail and were released on the condition that they must not leave the country or be involved in any activities that could damage the monarchy’s reputation.

“Holding pro-democracy activists in detention prior to trial and conviction on charges of insulting the monarchy seems aimed to punish them, in total disregard of fair trial procedures and the right to the presumption of innocence,” said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. “It sends a clear message that not only are demands by pro-democracy groups for monarchy reforms not tolerated, but they would result in harsh punishment.”

Jatupat and Somyot are prominent figures in a pro-democracy movement that started last year and held street demonstrations with three core demands: The resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his government, amending the constitution to make it more democratic and reforming the monarchy to make it more accountable.

The latter demand is the most radical and controversial because the monarchy has rarely faced any public scrutiny and is considered by many to be an untouchable pillar of Thai identity.

Jatupat was jailed on March 8, and was freed after his lawyer’s fifth application for bail. He previously spent 2 1/2 years in prison for sharing a BBC article on his Facebook page about on Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Somyot was jailed on Feb. 9, and was released after his lawyer’s seventh application for bail. He was previously imprisoned for seven years for publishing articles that were deemed insulting to the monarchy in a magazine he edited.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights says at least nine other lese majeste detainees are in jail awaiting trial.

At least 87 protesters and activists have been charged under the lese majeste law in connection with the past year’s pro-democracy movement, according to the Thai justice monitoring and reform group iLaw.

In January, a Thai court sentenced a former civil servant to a record prison term of 43 years and six months for breaching the country’s lese majeste law. Bangkok Criminal Court found the woman guilty on 29 counts for posting audio clips to Facebook and YouTube with comments deemed critical of the monarchy.