Thailand: Drop charges against pro-democracy activist mother

Asia Human Rights
May 12, 2016
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

Ms. Patnaree Chankij, a 40-year-old single mother of four children, including anti-junta student activist Mr. Sirawit, aka, 'Ja New', has been charged with defaming the monarchy. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) deems Ms. Patnaree's arrest a new low in the junta-ruled country. Mr. Sirawit is a Thammasat student activist who has been actively involved with the campaign to recall democracy in Thailand, as a result of which he has been pressed with charges in the Bangkok Military Court.

On 6 May 2016, the police request for an arrest warrant was approved by the Bangkok Military Court, and the military brought lese-majeste charges against Ms. Patnaree under Article 112 of the Thai Penal Code and the Computer Crime Act. On the same afternoon, Ms. Patnaree acknowledged the charges at the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) in the Government Complex, Chaeng Wattana Road, Bangkok. She reported herself and showed her willingness to face the charges and to affirm that she had no involvement in the commission of the crime. However, the TCSD inquiry official still informed her of the charges for committing an act against Thai Penal Code's Article 112 and the Computer Crime Act's Article 14(3).

The charges claimed that Ms. Patnaree had sent a one word reply, "Ja" (similar to saying "Yeah"), to the sender of a message, her son (Mr. Sirawit) who used the Facebook account name "Mr. Burin Intin". Mr. Burin Intin had posted messages deemed defamatory to the monarchy. During the chat, Mr. Burin had also written, "Don't criticise me for saying all these". Although Ms. Patnaree had not expressed agreement or commented on the content, the inquiry official claimed that Ms. Patnaree acknowledged and did not stop Mr.Burin Intin from doing so, nor instructed him to stop, leading to the presumption that Ms. Patnaree had conspired with Mr. Burin to post the messages defamatory, insulting, or threatening to the King, the Queen, and the Heir-apparent and to bring into a computer system data which is an offence against national security. Moreover, Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, the Thai Royal Police chief claimed that anti-junta activists should take the case of the arrested activist's mother as an example of what happens to those who oppose the junta.

After being informed of the charges, Ms. Patnaree denied all charges and requested for bail. However, the inquiry officials decided that bail should not be granted because it is an important case carrying a high penalty. As a result, Ms. Patnaree was held in custody overnight at the Bangkok Thung Song Hong Police Station, but on Sunday, 8 May 2016, the Bangkok Military Court released Ms.Patnaree on 500,000 baht bail with the condition that she does not go abroad or participate in any political activity.

Article 112 of Thailand's Penal Code states that anyone who "defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent" will be punished with up to 15 years in prison. Article 14 (3) of the Computer Crime Act states that if any person commits any offence; (3) that involves import to a computer system of any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom's security under the Penal Code shall be subject to imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than one hundred thousand baht or both.

The AHRC is thus concerned about the situation of anti-junta activists and their families who are faced with judicial harassment due to promoting democracy and civil rights in Thailand. The junta makes the enforcement and interpretation of Article 112 both uneven and highly political. According to the recent case, Facebook users will not know they have crossed an invisible line demarcated by the law until the police knock on their doors to take them away.

Therefore, the AHRC calls on the government of Thailand to refrain from using the legal system to silence or intimidate pro-democracy activists and their families. Additionally, the AHRC calls for the immediate dropping of charges against Ms. Patnaree Chankij as well as all other individuals accused or convicted of violating Article 112 and related laws. Until this happens, all those concerned with human rights and justice in Thailand should closely follow arrests, prosecutions, and imprisonments in connection with Article 112.