THAILAND: Continued detention without charge of theatre activists

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is gravely concerned about the ongoing detention without charge of Patiwat (last name withheld) and Pornthip (last name withheld), who are being held in relation to a complaint filed against them for alleged violation of Article 112 of the Criminal Code in Thailand. Patiwat, age 23, a fifth year student in the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Khon Kaen University, was arrested on 14 August 2014 in Khon Kaen province and is being held in the Bangkok Remand Prison. Pornthip, age 25, a graduate of the Faculty of Political Science at Ramkhamhaeng University and an activist, was arrested on 15 August 2014 at the Hat Yai Airport, and is being held in the Central Women’s Prison. The complaint is in relation to their participation in the performance of a play, “The Wolf Bride” (Jao Sao Ma Pa) at Thammasat University in October 2013 on the fortieth anniversary of the 14 October 1973 people’s uprising. At the time of their arrests, the AHRC noted that their arrests for exercising their freedom of expression in a theatre performance was an indication of the ongoing criminalization of thought and expression in Thailand following the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) (AHRC-STM-157-2014; AHRC-STM-159-2014). Their continued detention without charge is a daily reminder of the deepening human rights crisis put in motion by the coup.

Article 112 of the Criminal Code stipulates that, “Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” The use of Article 112 is highly politicized and has frequently been used as a method of silencing dissenting voices, particularly in moments of regime crisis. Although this measure has been part of the Criminal Code since its last revision in 1957, there has been an exponential increase in the number of complaints filed since the 19 September 2006 coup; this increase has been further multiplied following the 22 May 2014 coup.  According to information collected by the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), there are fifteen new cases pending in various criminal courts around the country and in the Bangkok military court. In this case, as well as others, the manner in which action has been taken against Patiwat and Pornthip only now, ten months after the performance of the play in question, suggests that following the coup, the past has become an open catalogue of acts and speech which can be criminalized in retrospect.

On 1 October 2014, the authoritiesrequested a further extension of their detention while they continue their investigation of Patiwat and Pornthip.  The Criminal Court granted the extension. This is the sixth time that their detention has been extended by the Court. In the case of Patiwat, his first order of detention was approved by the Court on 15 August 2014, for 12 days. In the case of Pornthip, her first order of detention was approved by the Court on 16 August 2014, for 12 days. For the second and third orders of detention of both, the Court granted an additional 12 days of detention each time. For the fourth order of detention of both, the Court granted 6 days of detention, and for the fifth order of detention, the Court granted 6 days of detention for Patiwat and 5 days of detention for Pornthip. For the sixth order of detention, the prosecutor claimed to have just received the investigation file and needed time to review it, and the Court granted an extension of 12 days. This means that as of the time of this statement (6 October 2014), Patiwat has been detained for 52 days and Pornthip has been detained for 53 days. The lawyers have petitioned against the detention orders subsequent to the first order, but the Court has dismissed them each time. In addition, both Patiwat and Pornthip have requested bail three times, but the Court has denied it each time.At the next hearing, which will be held for both of them on 13 October, the prosecutor must make a decision whether or not to formally charge Patiwat and Pornthip with violation of the law or release them, either on bail while the investigation continues or with a dismissal of the complaint against them.

Shortly after the initial arrests in August, the AHRC noted in a statement that while extended periods of both pre-charge and pre-trial detention have become common in cases of alleged violation of Article 112, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Thai authorities are obligated to respect the right to temporary release.

In particular, the AHRC would like to remind the junta, the Bangkok Metropolitan Police and the Criminal Court that Article 9(3) of the ICCPR stipulates that, “Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgment.” In the case of Patiwat and Pornthip, they have been denied temporary release even prior to be charged. Similar to other Article 112 cases, the Criminal Court has made this denial on the basis that if convicted, they would be subject to a heavy punishment and so are therefore likely to flee.

In a statement to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 27 September 2014, Thai Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapagorn asserted that despite the coup, Thailand remained committed to human rights and that, “Democracy must be based on respect for the rule of law.  And it must be about good governance, transparency, accountability and equal access to justice.” The foreign minister spoke eloquently in support of Thailand’s candidature for the Human Rights Council for the 2015-2017 term and the Security Council for the 2017-2018 term. However, given the sharp decline in human rights and clear disparities in access to justice in the aftermath of the coup, of which the ongoing detention without charge of Patiwat and Pornthip for their participation in the performance of a theatre play is one example, this statement cannot be taken as sincere.

The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the National Council for Peace and Order to act with sincerity on the principles of democracy and human rights of which Foreign Minister Tanasak spoke about to United Nations General Assembly.  One concrete way to do so would be to immediately release Patiwat and Pornthip and for the investigations of them and others facing prosecution under Article 112 to be dropped.  The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the coup in the strongest terms possible and wishes to express grave concern about the denial of freedom of expression and the expanding witch hunt of those who express, or have expressed in the past, critical or dissenting views. To think differently than the junta is not a crime.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-177-2014
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Democracy, Freedom of expression, Judicial system, Military, Rule of law,