The 27-hour Arrest of “Arnon” and “Panupong” from the Free Youth Protest Before Bail Granted

On 7 and 8 Aug 2020, the political situation continued to be intense as authorities arrested Mr. Arnon Nampa and Mr. Panupong Chadnok or “Mike,” two political activists who gave a speech at a rally organized by Free Youth on 18th July 2020 (see Thai version of the summary of the protest). Amidst the online and offline call for freeing the duo, let us recap what has happened during their almost 27-hour arrest, which included numerous charges, custody in three different police stations and two trips to the court seeking detention, and finally bail.

Police showing arrest warrants with 8 charges against “Anon-Mike” for the Free Youth rally

On 7 Aug 2020 at around 2pm, Mr Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer and an activist, was arrested by eight police officers in uniform and plainclothes in front of his residence in Bangkok. The group of officers showed an arrest warrant no. 1176/2563 issued by the Criminal Court dated 6 Aug 2020 on the request of Pol. Lt. Col. Jittima Tongchai, an inquiry officer from Samran Rat police station.

The Arrest Warrant of Arnon Nampa

The said arrest warrant was issued as a result of the big rally held by the Free Youth group at the Democracy Monument on 18 July 2020 with Mr Anon being the offender no. 7.

The arrest warrant contains 8 charges:

  1. Section 116 of the Criminal Code Whoever making an appearance to the public by words, writings or any other means which is not an act within the purpose of the Constitution or for expressing an honest opinion or criticism in order to instigate unrests and disaffections amongst the people in a manner likely to cause a disturbance in the country, or to cause the people to transgress the laws of the Country shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding seven years.
  2. Section 215 of the Criminal Code Whenever ten persons or more assemble together do or threaten to do an act of violence, or do anything to cause a breach of the peace, they shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or fined not exceeding one thousand baht, or both.
  3. Breach of the Emergency Decree Whoever organizing an activity involving a big number of people or a risk of exposure to other people, an activity or a gathering at any crowded place, or an activity instigating unrest or in a manner that increases the chance of disease transmission, shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding two years or fined not exceeding 40,000 Baht, or both.
  4. Section 34 (6) of the Communicable Disease Act Whoever performing any activity or act which may cause unhygienic conditions that may result in the transmission of the dangerous communicable disease or epidemic or violating the order of the communicable disease control officer shall be punished with fine not exceeding 20,000 Baht.
  5. Section 385 of the Criminal Code Whoever obstructing a public way by placing or leaving any objects on it or by any other acts to the extent that the traffic safety or convenience is likely to be disturbed shall be punished with fine not exceeding 5,000 Baht.
  6. Section 114 of the Road Traffic Act Whoever placing, setting up, extending, or hanging anything or performing any act in the manner that obstructs traffic, shall be punished with fine not exceeding 500 Baht.
  7. Section 4 of the Controlling Public Advertisement by Sound Amplifier Act Whoever using an electric sound amplifier without permission shall be punished with fine not exceeding 200 Baht.
  8. Section 19 of the Act on the Maintenance of the Cleanliness and Orderliness of the Country Whoever placing, putting, or piling any object on the road shall be punished with fine not exceeding 10,000 baht.

At around the same time which Arnon was arrested, at 2.50 pm, it was also reported that police officers arrested Mr Panupong Chadnok aka “Mike Rayong,” a Ramkhamharng University student and a member of the Eastern Youth for Democracy, in front of Ramkhamhaeng university. The officers showed an arrest warrant issued by the Criminal Court dated 6 Aug 2020 containing the same charges as Arnon’s for speaking at the Free Youth protest. Mr Panupong was the offender no. 5.

The issuance of the arrest warrants for the two activists was not preceded by a summon warrant calling the two to report themselves to the police beforehand.

The Arrest Warrant of Panupong Chadnok

Previously on 3 Aug 2020, Arnon Nampa also took on the stage to talk about the expansion of the monarchy power in a Harry Potter-themes rally at the Democracy Monument. There he announced that he would also speak on the same topic in Chiang Mai on 9 Aug 2020 and at Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus, on 10 Aug 2020.

In the meantime, the Free Youth group declared their escalation to the “Free People” group in a press conference as well as announced a big rally on 16 Aug 2020 at the Democracy Monument.

Later, a list of 31 speakers and participants of the Free Youth activities who would be prosecuted from attending the activity on 18 July, was released on social media. Matichon Online reported (in Thai) that among these people, the Samran Rat inquiry officer had already requested an arrest warrant for 15 without specifying any names, while in the process of collecting evidence for the other 16. The newspaper also claimed that the police had drawn a deadline to apprehend all offenders within 10 Aug.

Police hurriedly pressed charges without lawyer’s presence before seeking request for the suspect’s detention.

After showing the warrants, police officers escorted Arnon Nampa, accompanied by lawyers, to Samran Rat Police Station to make an arrest record. At around 4 pm, the police took him to Bang Khen Police Station to inform him of the charges and to investigate. The place for the inquiry had already been prepared.

At 5.35 pm, after informing Anon of his charges, all of which he refused, the inquiry officer immediately took Arnon to the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court to seek an order for the suspect’s detention.

At the same time, after having been brought to Samran Rat Police Station at 3.38 pm, Panupong Chadnok was called into the administration office in the police station. The police officers guarded the area and did not allow journalists to take a photo and activists or other people to accompany Panupong into the room.

Picture In front of Samran Rat Police Station by Prachatai

Afterward, the inquiry officer made an arrest record and attempted to press charges against Panupong which was opposed to his consent as he wished to wait for his lawyer to be present. The police tried to appoint a lawyer for him but he insisted that he already had his own lawyer who was on the way. Nevertheless, the inquiry officer went ahead to press charges and was hurried to bring him to the Criminal Court in order to request the court for his detention. Panupong refused to sign any arrest records and allegations informing records.

At 5.40 pm, the inquiry officer took Panupong out of Samran Rat Police Station, even though his lawyer had not arrived. At around 6 pm both detainees arrived at the Criminal Court.

At the same time, a group of students and citizens gathered in front of Bang Khen Police Station to monitor the incident and call for the release of the two.

Court rejected the detention request as submitted outside the official working hours. Police took Arnon and Panupong back into custody.

At the Criminal Court, the inquiry officer submitted the detention request for Arnon and Panupong for the period of 12 days, claiming that the investigation was not completed, six more witnesses needed to be interrogated, and fingerprint examination result was not out. The officer also objected the bail, stating that the two offenders were likely to join other protests and thus causing public disorder.

The two alleged offenders also filed a request opposing the detention, insisting that they had a permanent residence which made them unlikely to escape and that the nature of cases did not require any detention. In addition, they argued that this case was a peaceful use of freedom of assembly without any weapons. At the same time, they submitted a bail request in case the court accepted the police officer’s detention request.

Arnon Nampa also asked the court to review the detention request made by the inquiry officer, as the process occurred outside of office hours and was not in accordance with the normal legal procedure. He believed that the judicial process should not have been used to restrict citizen’s freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

At 8.35 pm, Anon and Panupong decided to withdraw their bail request meaning that if the court approved the detention request, they would be brought to Bangkok Remand Prison for detention. Both also wrote a note expressing their stance.

Translation of Arnon’s statement:

“When the dictator abused the justice system to silence us,
When bailing requires restrictions–preventing us from gathering and critically questioning the monarchic establishment,
I will deliberately give in my freedom to affirm my belief
and invite the people to fight for justice until our goal is achieved.
Don’t waste your effort to free Arnon.
Turn your will to drive our demands.
I believe in our fellow Thai people outside.”

Translation of Panupong’s statement:

“When the law becomes a tyrannical instrument, it is time for democratic fighters to hold onto our belief of freedom and used it to pave the way for democracy. Once I am free, I will fight till the end.” 

At around 9.30 pm. Mr Surajit Pleankham, the Vice President of the Criminal Court, together with the on-duty judges, reviewed the detention request himself. After the inquiry officer gave a testimony, the suspect’s lawyer, in his cross-examination, explained that the detention request were not necessary for these cases because the given reasons, which were the questioning of 6 more witnesses, the pending fingerprint examination result, and the criminal records, were not directly related to the suspects. Moreover, the inquiry officers could already compile the case’s evidence which was the video clip of the speech by themselves and thus the suspects could not interfere with the procedure anyway. Furthermore, the arrest warrants were issued without summon warrants, despite this being the usual practice of Samran Rat Police Station. Lastly, the suspects had cooperated with the process and did not try to escape.

The inquiry officer replied that an arrest warrant could be immediately issued for the offences carrying the penalty of imprisonment of more than 3 years.

The lawyer then asked whether the inquiry officer was aware of the fact that the Court had previously dismissed the detention request after official working hours.

The lawyer also asked the inquiry officer if public protest was the people’s right to freedom of assembly guaranteed by the constitution. The court argued that this question was not relevant and did not record it; however, the lawyer clarified that it was the exact reason why the suspects had been arrested and the detention order sought in the first place, and insisted that it be recorded.

At around 9.50 pm, after hearing the inquiry officer’s response to the cross-examination, the court read the decision saying that it dismissed the detention request because it was submitted outside of official working hours and then asked the request applicant to retrieve the suspects and re-submit another request within 48 hours according to the law.

However, Arnon and Panupong remained seated in the courtroom after the judges had left and insisted that they would not move to the police station because the police had no more power to keep them. The police disagreed, leading to an argument between the inquiry officer, lawyer, and suspects about the court’s order.

At 11.10 pm, the lawyer informed that the vice president of the Criminal Court had come back to explain that the police still had the power to detain the two suspects but that the court would not issue any detention order at this point.

At 11.20 pm on the ground floor of the Criminal Court, more than 30 policemen lined up to escort the two suspects back to the police station. It was reported that they would be brought to the cell at Huai Kwang Police Station.

However, at 11.30 pm, as Arnon and Panupong arrived on the ground floor of the court, they refused to be taken to the police station because they did not believe the police had the legitimate power. Instead, they stood still and said “if you think you have the power, then take me.” The police, instead, tried to show hand gesture to invite them to walk without touching, while the supporters were shouting “civil servants must serve the people”. After a brief discussion, the police officers carried both Anon and Panupong to the van to be transferred out of the court, as people chanting “stop harassing the people” from behind.

At 11.50 pm, Arnon and Panupong arrived at Huai Kwang Police Station, followed by groups of people who arrived afterwards. Some came from Bang Khen Police Station. They held public speeches calling for the release of the two activists in front of the police station throughout that evening. Some people decided to stay there overnight as well.

Police re-submits detention request. The Court accepted before granting conditional bail.

The next morning (8 Aug 2020) at around 8 am, the police officers took Anon and Panupong out of Huai Kwang Police Station to Ratchadapisek Criminal Court to request the detention order one more time.

On this day, the court’s officials had set up iron fences on the staircase, barring public from entering into the building. Vehicles entering the area were also subject to strict examination. They claimed that it was the court’s order. Any person without businesses in the court area was not permitted to enter. Moreover, the back of the court building, the area where suspects were brought in and out, was also blocked by the fences. More than 50 police officers in uniform and plainclothes were stationed around the court, while more than 10 plainclothes officers were on the ground floor inside the building.

In the morning, a group of around 80-100 people led by “Penguin” Mr. Parit Chiwarak travelled to the court to show support to the two activists. All of them sat in front of the fences at the staircases under a close watch by more than 30 police officers and court staffs. Some of the staff were also recording images and videos of the public. Also, the signs containing court’s regulations on the violation of judiciary power were placed.

At around 10:20 am, Parit tried to negotiate with the authorities to allow outsiders into the court to observe the hearing, as there were rumors that Arnon and Panupong might be brought to Thung Song Hong Temporary Prison (previously called Nakhon Chaisri Subdistrict Temporary Prison, which was used to detain the suspects from political cases which ‘defies national security’). After more than 20 minutes, the court staff agreed to let two representatives to enter. At the same time, a squad of riot control police has been additionally dispatched at the back of the building.

As for the detention process, Pol. Lt. Col. Jittima Tongchai, the inquiry officer of Samran Rat Police Station, submitted another detention request for the period of 12 days, same as yesterday, stating a pending investigation as a reason as six more witnesses needed to be questioned and the fingerprint examination result and criminal records were absent. However, the inquiry officer did not object the bail request like yesterday, but asked the court to specify conditions to prevent the suspects from getting involved in other protests and creating public unrest.

Both suspects submitted a request opposing the detention request insisting that it was unnecessary because they had already completed their inquiry, had a permanent residence in the country, did not intend to escape, and were not able to interfere with the evidence. Furthermore, the case concerned the peaceful exercise of the freedom of assembly without weapons, which was protected by the constitution. The reasoning by the inquiry officer that they might organize or participate in future protests was merely her speculation and an attempt to restrict citizens’ constitutional rights. As for Arnon, the detention would also affect his work as a lawyer with the upcoming case appointments.

In the meantime, Arnon Nampa wrote the following four points on top of his objection to the detention request:

      1. This case did not have adequate reasons for the arrest and detention of the suspects.
      2. The inquiry officer has already submitted a detention request on 7Aug 2020. Submitting the same request twice is considered repetitive and risk of double jeopardy.
      3. Political demonstration is an exercise of the right to freedom of assembly according to the constitution.
      4. The detention request is an intention to use the judiciary as a tool to restrict the freedom of assembly. Suspects were detained in the middle of the night and faced disproportionate charges. Such an approach to the justice system will eventually bring damage to the reputation of and the loss of faith towards the system itself.

 

Arnon’s and Panupong’s case was deliberated separately with one witness hearing each. The procedure ended at 11:55 am. The court set the time for reading the order at 1.30 pm.

After more than 3 hours have passed, at 3.25 pm., the Criminal Court approved the detention request for Arnon and Panupong by the inquiry officer. It maintained that as Section 78 of the Criminal Procedure Code laid out a step-by-step detention procedure to ensure the protection of people’s rights and liberties and as the inquiry officer made an arrest on 7 Aug 2020 at 4 pm and brought them to the court to seek detention at 4.45 pm of the same day, the court decided to dismiss the request as it was submitted outside of working hours and asked the police to take back the suspects and re-submit the request within 48 hours according to the law.

Today, the inquiry officer brought the suspects to the court at 8.52 am to re-submit the detention request which, according to Section 87 of the Criminal Procedure Code, was within the time within which the inquiry officer may detain the suspects and thus was not considered double jeopardy. As for the defendant’s objection that the suspects had the permanent residence and job, the court saw that this arrest complied with the arrest warrant which carried a maximum penalty of more than three years. According to the law, if it is the case in which the detainees do not obtain a temporary release and further investigation is needed, the inquiry officer may seek detention from the court.

The inquiry officer claimed that the reasons for the detention request was an incomplete investigation, which still required interrogation of six more witnesses, the fingerprint examination result, and criminal record. The inquiry officer may summon the said witnesses for investigation. Since it was the first detention request, which only allowed 48 hours of investigation, it was necessary to continue the process. Other objections by the suspects were deemed inadequate. The court, thus, approved the detention order of the suspects.

Then, the lawyer submitted a bail request by using the position of two members of parliament from the Move Forward Party, Mr. Karom Phonpornklang and Mr. Pakornwut Udompipatsakun, as surety.

At 4.35 pm, the Court approved the bail for Arnon and Panupong with the set amount of 100,000 Baht each which was to be collected later upon the breach of the bail conditions. The court, moreover, required that they not be involved in any similar activities which would otherwise be considered a violation.

At 4.50 pm, both activists were released. They then went to greet the supporters and give interviews to the press.