BANGKOK — Lawyers and opponents of the royal defamation law on Tuesday questioned an appeal court’s decision to deny a bail release to four protest leaders on the grounds that their speeches about the monarchy “hurt” the feelings of Thai people.
The Court of Appeals on Monday rejected the bail requests submitted by the four suspects: Arnon Nampa, Parit “Penguin Chiwarak, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, and Patiwat “Bank” Saraiyam. The ruling meant the four activists are likely facing a lengthy pre-trial detention under royal insult charges for their protest on Sept. 19.
While the bail rejection was somewhat expected by many, lawyers who represented the four said they were nevertheless surprised by the language of the court ruling, which appears to affirm their guilt even before the cases went before the judges.
“Their actions result in damages to the monarchy, which is widely revered and worshiped, and hurt the feelings of Thai loyal subjects without harboring any fear of the laws,” part of the statement said. “And their actions also encouraged members of the public to violate the laws.”
Yaowalak Anuphan, head of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, said the language amounted to passing a judgment on the four activists before a trial could be convened.
“It wasn’t in accordance with the laws at all. If they claim that the alleged wrongdoing is a serious crime, then people accused of murders won’t get bail either,” Yaowalak, whose organization represents the activists pro bono, said by phone.
“Secondly, by saying that they may repeat the offense, that’s a judgement made in advance,” she said. “Thirdly, the part about hurting the feeling of loyal subjects, that’s a deliberation that was beyond the case.”
Sawatree Suksri, a law lecturer at Thammasat University and a critic of the lese majeste law, also said the court document’s language is highly unusual, because it implied that the four were already found guilty.
“It was only a request for a temporary release. It hasn’t reached a trial to find out whether they are guilty or not,” Sawatree said by phone. “Yet in the document, the court already mentioned the nature of the case.”
She added, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Human rights lawyer Sarawut Pratoomraj expressed a similar view, and added that he’s not convinced why the four activists should not be granted bail.
“Usually, in every other case, if there’s no credible evidence that the defendants may interfere with the evidence, flee the country, or threaten the witnesses, the court would grant them bail,” Sarawut said. “The activists are not some influential people.”
Both Sarawut and Yaowalak also questioned why the court ruling that denied bail to the four protest leaders did not bear the name of the presiding judge – the omission is very unusual, they said.
At least 58 people have been charged with royal defamation, or lese majeste, since police launched a crackdown on people accused of insulting the monarchy back in November. Violators face up to 15 years in jail per count.
Although the letter of the law only bans threats or insults made toward key members of the Royal Family, a large number of suspects were charged with the offense for increasingly vague reasons, like wearing a traditional Thai costume and feigning to pay respect to a group of pro-democracy activists.