17 October 2017, Khon Kaen—The military prosecutor issued a decision to indict eight suspects in “Talk for Freedom” case at the 23rd Army Circle in Khon Kaen province, for violation of Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order no.3/B.E.2558 (2015) which bans political gatherings of five or more persons. Later Khon Kaen Military Court accepted the case and granted pre-trial detention. Seven defendants therefore submitted a bail application and were granted bail at 10,000 Baht (approx. USD 330) per defendant, amounting to 70,000 Baht (approx. USD 2310) in total. The Khon Kaen Military Court scheduled a deposition hearing at 8:30 am on 21 December 2017.

The indictment states that the eight defendants, Dao Din activists Mr Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, Mr Akom Sributtra and Mr Panupong Sritananuwat, New Democracy Movement activists Mr Narongrit Oopachan and Mr A (alias), land rights activist Ms Natthapon Arjharn, and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) staffs Ms Neeranuch Neamsub and Ms Duangthip Karnrit, and two others who were not present but had agreed to attend a training by the authorities, together violated Head of the NCPO Order no.3/B.E.2558 (2015) prohibiting political gatherings of five or more persons.

Two staffs of TLHR and Natthapon were present to monitor the discussion and had no involvement with the organizing team. Although they had clearly identified themselves as observers with the authorities, they were accused of the same charges as other activists. The other two suspects charged with the same offence had voluntarily agreed to receive corrective training conducted by the authorities for a period of not exceeding seven days. Per Section 12 of the Order no.3/B.E.2558, any proceedings against the two are discontinued.[1]

Further, the indictment states that, without the NCPO granting permission, the suspects allegedly organized and participated in the forum “Talk for Freedom: The Constitution and Isaan People” dated 31 July 2016 at Khon Kaen University in Northeastern Thailand. The indictment claims that the suspects read out the statement rejecting the draft charter issued by Nitirat, Thammasat University law scholars group, and encouraged participants to cast a no on the voting ballot during the Constitutional Referendum on 7 August 2016. Such actions constitute a gathering of more than five persons with political purposes.

In addition, the military prosecutor requested that the Court ordered a consecutive sentence, in which the period of imprisonment serves sequentially, for Jatupat if the Court found him guilty. Jatupat is currently serving his prison term at Khon Kaen Special Correctional Institution after he pled guilty to sharing a BBC Thai article on King Rama X’s profile and was sentenced to a two years and six months’ imprisonment. He is also facing another case at Khon Kaen Court for allegedly organizing a gathering in May 2015 to mark the first anniversary of the 2014 coup.

The military prosecutor also requested Khon Kaen Military Court at the 23rd Army Circle to order a pre-trial detention of the defendants and was approved. Seven of the eight defendants (except Jatupat who is currently serving his prison term and was not present at the Prosecutor’s Office) then submitted a bail application to the Court, but were temporarily detained at Khon Kaen Special Correctional Institution. Later around 4:30 pm, the Court issued the provisional release for a cash surety of 10,000 Baht (approx. USD 330) per defendant. Although the Head of the NCPO had issued the Order no.55/B.E.2559 (2016) to cease the practice of trying civilians in the Military Court for crimes committed on and after 12 September 2016, pending cases and crimes committed before said date are subject to the Military Court’s jurisdiction. The defendants are therefore facing trial in Khon Kaen Military Court.

The case stems from the 31 July 2016 event titled the “Talk for Freedom: The Constitution and Isaan People” forum organized by pro-democracy groups New Democracy Movement and New Generation Citizen, at the Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University. Students, college lecturers, and Northeastern-based civil society networks joined the event to discuss their opinions on the then draft charter in the run-up to the referendum dated 7 August 2016. Requesting a free and fair referendum, similar activities relating to the charter were held and carried out without interference from the authorities. Although the charter won approval, at least 208 persons are currently facing prosecutions with various offences concerning the referendum for their exercise of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, with the greatest proportion of defying Head of the NCPO Order no.3/B.E.2558 (2015) and Section 61 of the Constitutional Referendum Act.

[1] Anyone who commits an offence under paragraph one who voluntarily agrees to receive corrective training from Peacekeeping Officers for a period not exceeding seven days may be released with or without the conditions stipulated in Article 11 paragraph 2 at the discretion of Peacekeeping Officers. The case will then be considered closed according to Section 37 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as amended by the Criminal Code Amendment Act (No. 16), 1986.