Martial Court Frees Anti-Coup Activists

The four defendants at the Pathumwan Police Station on 15 March 2015.

BANGKOK — Four anti-coup activists charged with violating the junta's ban on protests were released by a military court in Bangkok today.

The four defendants were charged with defying the ban after they organized a pro-democracy rally in downtown Bangkok last month. 

The four defendants include Arnon Nampha, 30, a human rights lawyer; Pansak Srithep, 48, an activist whose teenage son was killed in the 2010 crackdown on Redshirt protesters; Siriwit Serithiwat, 24, a fourth-year political science student at Thammasat University; and Wannakiat Chusuwan, 36, a taxi driver.

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Siriwit Serithiwat, 24, a fourth-year political science student at Thammasat University hugs his mother after being granted release on bail, 15 March 2015.

The four men helped found the anti-coup group "Resistant Citizens," which has organized non-violent resistance against the military junta that seized power from an elected government last May.

Police escorted the activists to the military court at around 2 pm today. At around 6.30 pm, the four defendants emerged from the court, officially known as the Office of Staff Judge Advocate, and told reporters they had been released without any conditions.

In other cases, the court has required defendants to forswear partaking in political rallies or traveling outside the country in order to evade detention.

The activists' lawyer, Pavinee Chumsri, said prosecutors have not formally indicted the four men because they need more time to deliberate on the case files. 

The judge denied prosecutors' request to remand the defendants during the deliberation, said Pavinee, attorney from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

"The court reckons that the accused have clear addresses and have no intention to flee from the trial," said Pavinee.

The defendants have been ordered to return to the court on 27 March to hear whether prosecutors will formally indict them.

Speaking to the press upon his release, Arnon said he would like to thank the military court for giving him and other activists the chance to contest the charges outside prison. He declined to say whether his group will stage more rallies in the future. 

"We will focus on fighting our case in the military court in accordance with the legal process," said Arnon, who is a lawyer by profession.

While the court debated whether to detain the four men, a group of university students rallied outside to show their support for the defendants. The group passed around a loudspeaker, condemning the junta’s practice of trying civilians in martial courts, where military officers serve as judges and appeals are not permitted.

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Students protest the junta's orders to try civilians in martial court, 15 March 2015.

One of the students also flashed the forbidden three-finger anti-coup salute at soldiers, who closed the gate that led to the court but did not interfere with the rally.

The students concluded their rally soon after the activists were released. 

The court hearing followed Pansak's weekend  "march for justice" from his home in Bangbuathong district to Pathumwan Police Station, where he and other defendants were scheduled to report to police today. The walk was billed as an effort to raise awareness about the junta's suppression of civil liberties. 

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Pansak walking through Thammasat University campus on his way to the police station, 15 March 2015.

The march, which would have totaled 50-km, was interrupted an hour after it began when police officers detained Pansak for defying the junta's ban on political protests.

However, police released the activist later that day without charges, and allowed him to continue portions of his walk over the next two days, culminating in his arrival at Pathumwan Police Station this morning. 

Shortly after seizing power in a coup on 22 May 2014, the junta granted military courts jurisdiction over cases involving lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) and other offenses that "affect national security," including violating the junta's orders. At least 60 civilians are currently facing trials in martial court for violating the junta’s ban on public protests.

On 13 March, a junta spokesperson dismissed complaints from human rights activists about the martial court trials.

"If the accused is guilty based on complete evidence and witnesses' testimonies, the verdict will not be different regardless of what court delivers it," said the spokesperson, Col. Winthai Suwaree. 

 
CORRECTION: The defendants were not required to post bail in order to secure their release, as the original version of this article mistakenly reported. 
 

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