BANGKOK — Lawyers representing the fourteen activists who have been sent to prison for organizing a pro-democracy march in Bangkok have accused police of trampling on their clients' legal rights.
Kritsadang Nutcharus, a member of the activists' legal team, said police are planning to interrogate the group without letting them consult with their lawyers, as is required by the law.
The fourteen, eleven of whom are university students, are facing up to seven years in prison on charges of sedition and violating the junta's ban on political gatherings for staging a peaceful demonstration against the military regime in Bangkok on 25 June. They were arrested on the following day and sent to prison to await trial in a military court, which the ruling junta has assigned to oversee cases that affect "national security."
"The investigative officers said they would interrogate the students, even though we have insisted that we are not ready yet, because according to the Criminal Procedure Code, the suspects have the right to consult their lawyers first," Kritsadang said.
Police reportedly told Kritsadang that they may assign lawyers of their own choosing to represent the students during the interrogation, which Kritsadang said would also violate the laws.
"The fourteen students have told us they only want us to be their lawyers. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, interrogation can only be done in front of lawyers who are trusted and chosen by the suspects," Kritsadang said. "We have already sent a letter to the Lawyer Council informing that the students only want this set of lawyers to represent them. So the council need not dispatch its lawyers to the police."
He added, "If the Council does, it will be in violation of the Lawyers Act, because lawyers cannot represent any individual who already has his or her own lawyer."
According to Thailand’s Lawyers Act, "A lawyer cannot try to take another lawyer's client unless there is consent by the previous lawyer, or there is justified cause to believe that the client has already withdrawn the former lawyer, or that the former lawyer has already rejected the client's case.”
Yaowalak Anuphan, another lawyer representing the fourteen activists, criticized police's decision to seize her colleague’s car after she parked it outside of Bangkok’s martial court on the night of 26 June. Police said the vehicle contained "vital evidence" related to the activists. Officers searched the car after returning with a court warrant, and took away five mobile phones that some activists had left with the lawyer prior to their arrests. The car was returned 15 hours later.
"This is an act of intimidation and violation of freedom," Yaowalak said.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, the commander of Bangkok's police force defended the decision to seize the car and mobile phones.
"We had received information that vital evidence related to wrongdoing of the students was being hidden in the [car] that was parked next to the Bangkok military court," Pol.Lt.Gen. Sriwarah Rangsipramkul said.
He also told reporters that police have not "officially" recognized anyone as the legal representative of the fourteen activists, and hinted that more arrest warrants may be issued on individuals who are connected to the group, including the lawyer who owned the seized car, Sirikan Charoensiri.
Asked to comment on the activists' demand that they be tried by a civilian court and not a military one, Pol.Lt.Gen. Sriwarah said, "The current laws clearly permit it [martial court's jurisdiction over civilians]. If you don't agree with it, please change the laws."
He added, "Let me insist that this is not about politics. Police only perform their duty and interrogate the cases as the laws requires them."
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