BANGKOK — Three men who participated in a symbolic protest against the junta-sponsored charter referendum in 2016 were sentenced to four months in prison by a court on Tuesday.
The Phra Khanong Criminal Court found activists Piyarat “Toto” Chongthep, Jirawat Ekakkaranuwat, and Songtum Kaewpanphreuk guilty for ripping a ballot paper in a polling station and posting a video of the protest on the internet. The sentence was suspended, and the defendants were fined 4,000 baht each.
“My feelings today remain unchanged. It was civil disobedience that I have to receive the consequences of today,” Piyarat said by phone Tuesday. “If I could turn back time, I would do it all over again. I’ve never regretted doing it.”
Piyarat ripped his ballot in Bang Na on Aug. 7, 2016, to protest the poll for the charter draft, which he said was rigged in favor of the junta from the beginning. He yelled “Down with dictatorship, long live democracy!” as he tore the ballot to pieces.
He was immediately arrested and charged with destroying state property, destroying voting equipment, causing unrest, and disrupting the referendum. Jirawat and Songtum were also charged for filming Piyarat’s protest.
“I stand by what I did. It didn’t affect others’ freedom or hurt others. It was peaceful,” Piyarat said.
Piyarat is a former Kalasin MP for the now-dissolved Future Forward Party. At his trial today, former party sec-gen Piyabutr Saengkkanokul showed up to show his support for the defendants.
“They love democracy at heart,” Piyabutr said. “I came to support them for being brave and showing civil disobedience.”
The referendum in 2016 asked the public to vote for or against a constitution draft written by a body handpicked by the junta. Critics said the vote was far from fair and open as many activists campaigning against the draft were arrested and charged.
The draft charter was eventually approved by a majority of voters.