Scholars at Risk (SAR) has sent to Thai authorities the below letter raising concern over the detention of three students, Mr. “Penguin” Parit Chiwarak, Ms. “Rung” Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, and Mr. “Mike” Panupong Jadnok, and the lèse-majesté and sedition charges they face in apparent retaliation for their nonviolent participation in pro-democracy protests. SAR calls on Thai authorities to immediately secure the students’ release and to drop any charges against them.
Sent via email to the Honorable Prayut Chan-ocha, Prime Minister of Thailand
April 2, 2021
RE: Release detained Thai student activists
I write on behalf of the Scholars at Risk Network to express grave concern over the detention of three students, Mr. “Penguin” Parit Chiwarak, Ms. “Rung” Panusaya Sitthijirawattanakul, and Mr. “Mike” Panupong Jadnok, and the lèse-majesté and sedition charges they face in apparent retaliation for their nonviolent participation in pro-democracy protests. SAR respectfully urges you to immediately secure the students’ release and to drop any charges against them.
Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of more than 500 universities and colleges in 43 countries dedicated to protecting the human rights of scholars around the world, and to raising awareness, understanding of, and respect for the principles of academic freedom and its constituent freedoms of expression, opinion, thought, association, and travel. In cases like this, involving alleged infringement of these freedoms, Scholars at Risk investigates hoping to clarify and resolve matters favorably.
SAR understands that, starting on July 18, 2020, students and other young people across Thailand organized protests demanding democratic reforms, including the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet, the drafting of a new constitution based on the will of the people, and an end to the repression of dissidents. Police arrested Mr. Parit, a Thammasat University student, and Mr. Panupong, a Ramkhamhaeng University student, in August 2020. In October of the same year, police arrested Ms. Panusaya, also of Thammasat University. While all were initially charged with sedition for their participation in the protests, in late 2020, authorities added charges of lèse majesté (Criminal Code Section 112).
On February 9, 2021, a criminal court formally indicted Mr. Parit and ordered him held in pretrial detention on the lèse majesté charges against him. Ms. Panusaya and Mr. Panupong were likewise formally indicted on lèse majesté charges and ordered detained on March 8. Thailand’s lèse majesté law provides for up to 15 years’ imprisonment for anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir apparent or the Regent.” Mr. Parit faces at least 20 counts of lèse majesté, for, inter alia, 12 different speeches and 4 social media posts between August 2020 and February 2021. Ms. Panusaya faces at least 9 counts of lèse majesté, for, inter alia, 4 speeches and 2 social media posts between August 2020 and February 2021. Mr. Panupong faces at least 8 counts of lèse majesté, for, inter alia, 4 speeches and 2 social media posts between August 2020 and February 2021.
In all three cases, the court has denied bail on the grounds that the gravity of the punishment makes flight likely. As of this writing, Mr. Panupong is being held in the Bangkok Remand Prison; Ms. Panusaya is being held in the Central Women’s Prison. Mr. Parit’s health has deteriorated considerably since March 15, when he began a hunger strike to protest the denial of bail. SAR understands that Mr. Parit is currently being held in Pathumthani Detention Center, where he is serving 15 days for contempt of court, apparently in connection to his announcement of his hunger strike. After his contempt sentence, Mr. Parit will be transferred back to Bangkok Remand Prison. At a March 29 hearing, the court again denied bail for Mr. Parit, Mr. Panupong, and Ms. Panusaya. SAR understands that Ms. Panusaya has since started a hunger strike.
We welcome any additional information that may explain these events or clarify our understanding. Absent this, the facts as described suggest that Mr. Parit, Mr. Panupong, and Ms. Panusaya are being detained and prosecuted as a result of the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression–conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party. Detentions and prosecutions in connection with nonviolent political expression by student activists raise serious concerns about protection for free expression, academic freedom and the higher education space in Thailand.
SAR therefore respectfully urges you to direct the appropriate authorities to immediately release the students; drop any charges against them that arise out of nonviolent expressive activity; and ensure that they are afforded due process, humane treatment, and access to medical care, family, and legal counsel, in accordance with international human rights obligations.
I thank you for your consideration and look forward to your response.
The Honorable Don Pramudwinai
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand
The Honorable Somsak Thepsutin
Minister of Justice of Thailand
The Honorable Sitthichote Intrawiset
President of the Criminal Court
The Honorable Metinee Chalodhorn
President of the Supreme Court
The Honorable Police Col. Suchart Wongananchai
Director General of the Department of Corrections
The Honorable Apirat Kongsompong
Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army
The Honorable Gen Chaktip Chaijinda
Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police
The Honorable Prakairat Tanteerawong
National Human Rights Commissioner of Thailand
Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi
Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland
The Honorable Amara Pongsapich
Representative of Thailand to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights
Ambassador Pirkka Tapiola
Delegation of the European Union on Thailand