On December 3, 2016, Thai authorities arrested Khon Kaen University law student activist Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, after he shared a BBC article about the new Thai king over Facebook. He was charged with lèse majesté, or defaming the crown, under Article 112 of the Thai Penal Code.
Boonpattararaksa is a prominent student activist and member of the student-led groups Dao Din and the New Democracy Movement. He has previously been arrested and currently faces separate charges in connection with his political activities. On Friday, December 2, Boonpattararaksa posted a BBC Thai article about the new king, King Rama X, on his Facebook page. He was arrested the following day and charged with lèse majesté; he is reportedly the first person charged with lèse majesté since the new king has assumed the throne. If convicted, he faces a potential prison sentence of three to fifteen years.
In a December 3 appearance in Khon Kaen Provincial Court, Boonpattararaksa was reportedly deemed not to be a flight risk; he was released from custody on bail the following day. However, on December 22, after Boonpattararaksa reportedly published a statement on Facebook related to his detention, the court revoked bail and ordered that he be taken back into custody, where he remains as of this report.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and detention of a student in retaliation for non-violent expressive activity – conduct which is explicitly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with the right to freedom of expression, so long as it is exercised peacefully and responsibly. Prosecutions aimed at limiting student expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of free expression, due process and fair trial.
On December 27, 2016, an appellate court affirmed the decision to revoke Boonpattararaksa’s bail, reportedly reasoning that the statements he made on Facebook earlier this month reflected a lack of fear and/or respect for state authorities. In addition, the court raised the possibility that, if released, he might interfere with evidence. The Facebook statements that led to the revocation of Boonpattararaksa’s bail included a statement that he was not guilty of anything and could not sincerely apologize, as well as a charge that “the economy is terrible and the authorities only want bail money.”
In the weeks that followed Boonpattararaksa’s December 27, 2016 hearing, the Khon Kaen Provincial Court has repeatedly denied his requests for bail, most recently on February 22, 2017. He remains in custody as of this report.