Supreme Court Rejects Activist’s Challenge to Authority of Junta Order

Activist Sombat Boonngamanong poses Wednesday with a Bangkok Remand Prison vehicle. Photo: Sombat Boonngamanong / Facebook

BANGKOK — The Supreme Court Wednesday gave an activist opposed to military rule a two-month jail term and fined him 3,000 baht for defying a junta order.

The Supreme Court affirmed an Appeals Court’s ruling that veteran Redshirt activist Sombat Boonngamanong was guilty for not reporting to the junta in a timely fashion after it seized power from the civilian government in 2014. Sombat was one of many people ordered by the military to appear in the immediate aftermath of the coup.

In its rationale, the court said the military order had the force of law as the junta had taken sovereign power.

“I am still confident what I did was not illegal,” Sombat said Wednesday. “What was judged by the court might become a social norm, but it will never become a norm for me. It can never change my thinking.”

Instead of going to jail, Sombat will be on probation for a year on a suspended sentence.

Like many members of the political opposition, activists, dissidents and academics, Sombat was summoned by the National Council of Peace and Order, or NCPO, the administrative body formed by the military to rule the country, to present himself to the Royal Thai Army on May 23, 2014, one day after the coup.

The NCPO issued another order later the same day specifying that those who did not turn themselves in without contacting the authorities with a valid excuse could be imprisoned for up to two years and fined up to 40,000 baht.

Sombat, who openly resisted the junta’s legitimate sovereignty, never showed up.

After hiding to avoid the summons for two weeks, Sombat was arrested in Chonburi province on June 5, 2014. He was charged with inciting unrest, violating the Computer Crime Act, and defying the order to report.

In September 2015, a court ruled the order threatening punishment was announced after the junta issued its summons; therefore, Sombat was acquitted as it could not be applied retroactively. The court also said the order was invalid as it was issued specifically to criminalize the actions of specific people.

Instead Sombat was fined 500 baht for resisting an authorized order under Article 368 of the Criminal Code.

In June 2016, the Appeals Court overturned that ruling, saying the order issued by the NCPO was valid law.

The Appeals Court also dismissed Sombat’s claim that the coup was illegal and the NCPO had no rightful authority. He argued the coup was not fait accompli without the King judging its legitimacy and signing an order to be published in the Royal Gazette. The court rejected that argument on the basis that the King is supposed to be uninvolved in politics.

Sombat was sentenced two months in jail, also suspended, and fined 3,000 baht.

The Supreme Court today upheld that ruling.

Sombat said he respect the verdict but insisted he exercised his rights as guaranteed by the constitution and would continue to object to the authority and legitimacy of the junta.

Related stories:

Military Court Denies Anti-Coup Leader’s Release on Bail