Why Sedition Charges Won’t Silence Me

Khaosod English writer Pravit Rojanaphruk, second from left, with police Col. Krit Seneewong na Ayutthaya, far left, Yaowalak Anuphan of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, second from right, and Angkhana Neelapaijit of the National Human Rights Council, far right, on Aug. 8 at the Technology Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok.

It never occurred to me that what I write could be seditious.

Under military rule, criticizing the junta on social media can be construed as an act of sedition, however.

I learned this the hard way when police rang me up at the end of last month, informing me that I had been charged with sedition for a number of my Facebook postings.

It was not until reporting to the Technology Crime Suppression Division on Aug. 8 that they casually told me, my lawyers and two witnesses – Angkhana Neelapaijit of the National Human Rights Council and Pokpong Laowansiri of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights – that I am in fact facing two separate sedition cases instead of one.

My lawyers and I went through the details of the seven Facebook posts, all of which were indeed critical of the junta which robbed people of their sovereign power three years ago, and I confirmed to police they were all written by myself.

On one level, this seems like another criminal case. The difference is that the sedition law, or Article 116 of the criminal code, has hardly been used in the past, particularly before the coup. Each count carries a maximum prison term of seven years. Police insisted that I am facing terms of seven years for each case, making for a combined maximum sentence of 14 years, despite there being seven allegedly offending posts. We might have to wait and see what the prosecutors and judges think.

Police said they considered the posts in each case to be a continuous violation in terms of the span of time they took place.

The first case involved two Facebook posts and was actually lodged back in February 2016. Somehow police kept it on the back burner for a year and a half, and one wonders why they didn’t pull the trigger back then. The second case, pertaining to five Facebook postings, was filed against me at the end of July.

Let me be clear without going into the minutia of the seven posts that I have seen them all and acknowledge being the sole author of the bilingual messages. None, at least from my understanding, can be earnestly considered seditious. They have failed to point how what information was allegedly false in the second case, so after a four-hour session the week before, I had to return again yesterday for them to finish the reading of the charges.

The grey area where no one really knows what constitutes sedition under military rule makes this a chilling effect and ensures greater self-censorship of anything critical of the junta in social media, however. The hazier the boundaries of what constitutes sedition, the more effective they become in instilling fear.

It may also be baffling that people who criticize the military junta, which usurped and continues to usurp power from the people, are the ones being charged with sedition. Control is more effective when fear is induced by logic-defying situations because one suspends disbelief of the illogical and absurd in Juntaland Thailand any longer. When right is wrong, wrong is right and might is right, rationality no longer gives guidance. We live not under the rule of law but under rule by arbitrary law of the junta. And logic is not necessary. Just obey. In fact, to obey without logically asking why or questioning the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of the military regime, makes control effective. Just obey. Don’t ask what’s wrong with the order imposed upon us.

Question we must, however. We must continue to scrutinize and criticize the military junta, despite the obvious price to be paid, in hope that we can discourage future coup-making wannabes from attempting the same and stop the junta rolling back the little precious freedoms remaining.

Thailand had a dozen “successful” coups in the past eight decades and a half since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. We should not encourage more. We can discourage more coups by standing firm and defending free expression by exercising it.

Social media has become a new public sphere the junta fears and has failed to completely lock down three years on. It is here on social media where the resistance continues. It is here that we can glimpse the other Thailand, where junta’s propaganda dissolves before critical views of citizens who have refused to surrender themselves and become docile.

I don’t know if my two cases will go to the court. I don’t know what rulings might be handed down if they do.

I know that many many years from now, when I and dictator Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha are no longer alive, history will judge me more kindly, however.

So I take solace in looking at my travails with a very long-term view and let history be the ultimate judge.

Allow me also thank the head of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Yaowalak Anuphan, and her team for representing me. I am also grateful to the European Union mission which sent a representative last week along with observers from the embassies of Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Sweden. I’d like to thank the US Embassy for sending second secretary Andrew Armstrong to the Friday’s police session.

Thanks also to Kingsley Abbott of the International Commission of Jurists and a representative from iLaw, who were also present. Familiar faces like Dan Fieller from the British Embassy, Shawn Friele of the Canadian mission were reassuring. Statements calling for the regime to drop the charges against me have come from Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance. For all this, I am thankful.

It’s a privilege and an honor to defend freedom of expression on social media during the past three years. It is also an honor to be singled out among the select few Thais who have stood up and effectively disturbed the make-believe world of Juntaland Thailand.

We cannot defend freedom of expression if we are not willing to pay the price. The price is worth paying when one takes the long-term benefits of society to heart.

Be optimistic and have fortitude. I have been detained twice without charge and was prevented from going to Finland once. Now I am merely being charged without being detained, at least not yet.