BANGKOK — Friends of jailed pro-democracy activist Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattaraksa are stepping up their campaign to see him freed on bail.
About 10 people submitted a petition Tuesday with the national human rights body urging it to consider whether his rights, including his legal right to be freed on bail, have been violated.
Activists and associates of the 25-year-old student, who is accused of defaming the monarchy, said they worry he will be unable to graduate from university or endure what they said are an unusual number of body cavity searches.
Nattaa “Bow” Mahattana, coordinator of the #Freepai campaign, said after submitting the letter that Jatupat was being subjected to humiliating body cavity searches every time he returns to prison from a court hearing.
“Pai doesn’t want to go to court again as a result,” Nattaa said.
She said Jatupat is forced to strip naked, bend over and use his hands to display his rectum to a guard, ostensibly in search of smuggled drugs, every time he re-enters the facility.
Fellow pro-democracy activist Rangsiman Rome, who joined Nattaa at the National Human Rights Commission meeting, said he was subjected to the same.
“It’s obscene. I don’t think anyone should put up with it, but what choice do we have?” Rangsiman said.
“It’s uncalled for because he’s not a heinous criminal or had anything to do with drugs,” said another well-known anti-junta activist, New Democracy Movement member Sirawith Seritiwat, aka Ja New.
The activists said they were organizing a night train from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station on Thursday to visit Jatupat, who is incarcerated in the Khon Kaen Provincial Prison.
Jatupat was arrested Dec. 3 for sharing a BBC Thai biography about King Vajiralongkorn, who had just ascended to the throne two months after the death of his father, King Rama IX.
He was initially granted bail on the following day. However, his bail was revoked on Dec. 22, after the court said Jatupat had not deleted a Facebook post making fun of the fact his 400,000 baht bail bond was expensive.
He said such conditions were never part of his bail conditions.
Graduation on the Line
Anal inspections and denial of bail aside, the group said it is worried whether extended pretrial detention will jeopardize Jatupat’s chance of graduating from Khon Kaen University. His exams are set for Jan. 17.
Rangsiman warned that Jatupat could lose more than his time in prison but his right to complete the law degree he has invested seven years of his life.
All three said they were going through various channels to convince the university to be lenient. If Jatupat doesn’t finish his undergraduate degree in law within eight years he will be automatically disqualified. He’s currently in his seventh year with just one subject left.
“This is a serious matter for him if the university doesn’t plan to help or be flexible,” Nattaa said.
Wherefore BBC Thai?
Jatupat was charged under the lese majeste law for sharing a biography shared by thousands of others which the authorities deemed contained information insulting to His Majesty King Rama X. BBC Thai, a Thai-language outlet of the British Broadcasting Corp., did not comment on the matter beyond a story about his arrest that mentioned the same article had been shared more than 2,500 times.
Jatupat’s friends say more should be done.
Nattaa said BBC Thai should report about the case more closely and highlight related human rights violations.
“BBC Thai has been accused of peddling false information so they should insist on the accuracy of their information. Wouldn’t being silent be tantamount to accepting [the allegations]? And what about the near three thousand people who also shared the news? How will BBC Thai be responsible?” Nattaa said.
Reached for comment, BBC Thai editor Nopporn Wong-Anan referred a reporter to the email of a BBC spokeswoman who was out of town. Messages sent Tuesday night to other representatives had yet to be returned.
After this article’s publication, BBC World Service spokesman Paul Rasmussen forwarded a statement and said the broadcaster would not reply to questions on the matter
“BBC Thai was established to bring impartial, independent and accurate news to a country where the media faces restrictions, and we are confident that this article adheres to the BBC’s editorial principles,” Rasmusen wrote.
Rangsiman said he was told by Jatupat’s parents that BBC Thai would contact them for inquiries but nothing more.
“If the media doesn’t protect the freedom of those who share their news, what’s the point of the media having press freedom?” he said.
Sirawith said BBC Thai could at least issue a statement defending its article as being legal under Thai law.
“BBC Thai should also assist [Jatupat] regarding his bail application,” he said. “I am disappointed in BBC Thai because Pai is in prison now for sharing their news.”