A media activist along with nine others from civil society organizations in Thailand were arrested in Bangkok on 30 December 2010 for violating seven provisions of the penal code when they entered the premises of Parliament during a rally in 2006.
Supinya Klangnarong, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform was formally charged before the Criminal Court along with Jon Ungphakorn, chairperson of the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development; Pairoj Polpetch, secretary-general of UCL; Sirichai Mai-ngarm, member of the labor union of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand; Suwit Kaewwan, leader of the Confederation of State Enterprise Labor Union; Saree Ongsomwang, chairperson of the Consumers’ Association; Amnat Palamee, leader of the Confederation of State Enterprise Labor Union; Nutzer Yeehama, a member of the Friend of People NGO; Aninut Chaosanit, member of the Council of People’s Organization Network in Thailand; and Pichit Chaimongkol, member of the Campaign for Popular Democracy.
They were released more than seven hours after their arrest upon posting bail or having high government officials vouch for them.
The 10 were charged for violating sections 83, 91, 116, 215, 362, 364 and 365 of the penal code.
These provisions mainly deal with offenses related to public gathering of more than 10 people, invasion on public premises that cause damage to the properties or disturbing the peace of their owners, and instigation of public unrest and violence against the state with an intention to undermine the key democratic institutions.
However, violation of Section 116 is the most serious charge as it involves the use of violence and threat to use force with an intention to change the laws or to overthrow the government. If convicted of this charge, the accused could face up to seven years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to THB10,000 or both. However, if convicted of multiple offenses, the combined sentences of each of the accused would reach 20 years.
The case stemmed from a non-violent rally on 12 December 2006 wherein the accused and their colleagues protested in front of Parliament against the passage of eight bills by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA). The NLA’s members were appointed by the military after the coup d’etat that toppled PM Thaksin Shinawatrat on 19 September 2006. The accused claimed that the bills would infringe upon the civil liberties of Thais and undermine democracy in the kingdom. One of these bills was later enacted as the Computer Crime Act of 2007, which has proven to be controversial as critics claim it has broadly-worded provisions that are open to abuse and penalties that are harsher than their counterpart in the penal code.
However, when the lawmakers ignored the protesters, the 10 accused led some 100 others to enter the premises of Parliament by climbing the fence, entered the building and demanded that the legislative session be stopped.
The accused claimed that their rally and subsequent entry into the Parliament premises were non-violent.
The 10 were initially charged by the police in January 2008 for obstruction of the parliamentary session. Said offense carry a fine. However, authorities told them that more serious offenses would be filed against them in the future.
The Criminal Court set 28 February 2011 for the presentation of witnesses.
Supinya said the charges are clearly meant to discourage the public’s criticism against the government.
SEAPA is the only regional organization with the specific mandate of promoting and protecting press freedom in Southeast Asia. It is composed of the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information (ISAI); the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom andResponsibility (CMFR) and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ); the Bangkok-based Thai Journalists Association (TJA); and the network’s Kuala Lumpur-based associate member, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).