Gov’t Warns Public Not to Criticize Constitutional Court

A file photo of the Constitutional Court's office in Bangkok.

BANGKOK — Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said criticism of a top court dealing with prominent political cases might result in prosecution of the critics themselves.

His warning came after the Constitutional Court summoned two academics for the comments they made about the very same court. Citing a new law implemented earlier this year, Wissanu said criticism of the court or its verdicts can be considered a contempt of the court.

“Everyone has to be careful when they express their opinion,” the deputy prime minister told reporters. “When it comes to contempt of court, the court may press charge by itself without anyone filing a complaint.”

Read: Ever-Expanding Contempt of Court Law Worries Lawyers

Academic and writer Sarinee Achavanuntakul received a summons from the Constitutional Court earlier this week after she wrote an opinion piece in Krungthep Turakit newspaper back in May.

In the article, Sarinee argued the judges might have acted too heavy-handed when they disqualified a Future Forward Party candidate from running the March election based on their “careless” interpretation of an election law.

As a result, the Constitutional Court summoned Sarinee for questioning in a contempt of court charge. The document also named an editor of Krungthep Turakit as a co-defendant. The newspaper has since deleted the article from its website.

Political scientist Kovit Wongsurawat also reported receiving a similar summons from the court, which is tasked with deliberating on legal debates that often involve national politics.

Kovit said the summons mentioned his Twitter post in which he called the court “shameless” for suspending the Future Forward Party leader but not government MPs who were accused of similar wrongdoing.

Contempt of court, once restricted to mostly disruptive acts in courtrooms and refusal to carry out judges’ orders, appears to have expanded to criticism of the judicial powers in recent years.

In a new organic law enacted in March, any “dishonest” criticism of the Constitutional Court can be regarded as contempt of court. Such charges are tried by the same court that issued them.

Speaking at a news conference today, Future Forward deputy leader Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said the court must be subject to scrutiny.

“Why can’t the owners of sovereign power criticize organizations who wield that power on their behalf?” said Piyabutr, a former law lecturer. “We can see people criticizing MPs, politicians, the Parliament, and the government. In the same way, they must be free to criticize the court.”