On June 23, 2016, uniformed and plainclothes soldiers reportedly arrested a group of 13 students and union activists who were distributing political flyers critical of the Junta’s draft charter. The students and activists include Rangsiman Rome, Korakoch Saengyenpan, Worawut Butmat, Konchanok Chanakhun, Tueanjai Waengkham, Pimai Ratwongsa, Somsakol Thongsuksai, Anan Loket, Phanthip Saengathit, Thirayut Napnaram, Yuttana Dasri and Rackchart Wong-Arthichart.
On the afternoon of June 23, members of a Thai student group known as New Democracy Movement (NDM) and other activists met outside the Bangplee Industrial Estate to distribute “Vote No” flyers, advocating that Thai voters reject the Junta’s draft charter, which will be put to a vote during an August 7 referendum. NDM has expressed concerns that the draft charter would weaken Thai democracy. While the group was distributing flyers, soldiers from the Royal Thai Military Corps arrived and reportedly asked them to stop by 5:30 PM. Rangsiman Rome, a law student at Thammasat University, requested that the soldiers allow them to continue distributing their flyers until 6:00 PM. The soldiers refused the request and arrested Mr. Rangsiman, along with six students from Ramkamhang University, three students from Thammasat University and three union activists.
On June 24, authorities reportedly brought the activists to a military court, where they were charged with: violating Article 12 of NCPO Order No. 3/2558, which bans political gatherings of five or more people; Article 61 of the Constitutional Referendum Act of B.E. 2559, which criminalizes actions that “cause confusion to affect the orderliness of voting;” and Announcement No. 25 of the Council for Democratic Reform, which criminalizes the refusal to be fingerprinted. If convicted, the students and activists could face prison sentences ranging from six months to ten years, fines totaling 511,000 baht (roughly US $14,475), and restricted voting rights for up to five years. Five of the activists reportedly posted bail of 50,000 baht (roughly US $1420); however, the remaining seven refused to post bail and demanded that the court release them unconditionally. In response, the court ordered that the seven activists be jailed until their trial. As of this report, it is unclear when the 13 student and union activists will face trial.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the imprisonment and prosecution of students and activists as a result of nonviolent expression and association – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with the rights to freedom of expression and association, so long as such rights are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Imprisonment and prosecution aimed at limiting expression and association undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of free expression, freedom of association, due process and fair trial.
On July 5, 2016, a Thai military court ordered the release of the remaining seven students and activists after dismissing police investigators’ request to renew their detention for another 12 days. The students’ and activists’ lawyers signed a counter petition stating that they would not interefere with the ongoing police investigation and were not likely to flee. As of this report, the 13 students and activists continue to face pending charges.
On November 1, 2016, a Thai military court charged Rackchart Wong-Arthichart with violating Article 12 of NCPO Order No. 3/2558, which bans political gatherings of five or more people, and Article 61 of the Constitutional Referendum Act of B.E. 2559, which criminalizes actions that “cause confusion to affect the orderliness of voting.” The charges are in connection to the June 23 demonstration at which Mr. Wong-Arthichart claimed he acted as an observer, not a participant. Mr. Wong-Arthichart was taken into custody, but offered to post bail of 50,000 baht (roughly US $1,430) and was released without condition.