FACTreport: Trial of Thailand 10 for nonviolent sit-in begins

February 22, 2012

Thai human rights defenders Jon Ungphakorn, Amnat Palamee, Anirut Khaosanit, Nasser Yeemha, Pairoj Polpetch, Pichit Chaimongkol, Saree Ongsomwang, Sawit Keawwan, Sirichai Maingam, and Supinya Klangnarong were in Bangkok’s Criminal Court yesterday to begin a two-month trial resulting from a nonviolent sit-in against the military’s coup’s lawgivers on December 12, 2007.

Thai legal expert, first prosecution witness Meechai Ruchupan, has a long history of serving Thai military ands coup governments. He served as interim prime minister briefly in 1992 to fill the power vacuum created when the 1992 coup general was forced to resign. Previously, he had been office minister under Major General Chatichai Choonhavn who was deposed by that 1992 military coup. Meechai also has a website: http://meechaithailand.com/index1.html. Most recently, he publicly expressed his views following the sentencing of American Joe Gordon, to six years in prison for lèse majesté, to say that the American ambassador had no right to comment on Thailand’s monarchy.

For purposes of this trial, he appeared today as premier witness in his capacity as former Speaker for the 250-member unicameral National Legislative Assembly appointed by the military following their 2006 coup d’etat. The NLA’s structure and mandate under a 2007 interim constitution resulted in direct passage into law with no oversight by an upper house.

The groups of which these activists were part under the umbrella of the Confederation of State Enterprise Labour Unions, sent Meechai Ruchupan an open letter requesting restraint by the NLA in passing such laws as the Internal Security Act, Community Forests Act, Broadcasting and Telecommunications Act, State Enterprise Privatisation Act, and Privatisation of Universities Act, which were only five of 45 under “debate”.

I’ve used “act” here to indicate active laws when, in fact, they were all still “bills” at the time of the Thai 10 sit-in because the NLA, of course, rammed them home before it was disbanded and replaced by real lawmakers.

Meechai testified that the NLA was granted legitimacy as a lawmaking body by the interim constitiution written by the military. He stated, if the NLA was not able to continue passing laws, elections could not be held.

Meechai stated that all Thai citizens require pre-approval before attending the legislature. That means that everything done in there in our name is done in secret!

The land on which Parliament House sits is administered by the Crown Property Bureau. It belongs to the King. In the current hyperRoyalist climate, government could even interpret this to mean protesters are guilty of acting against the monarchy under Thailand’s lèse majesté laws.

The defence team turned the questioning to the 1997 Thai Constitution and the 2007 rewrite replacing the interim document. Meechai affirmed that these constitutions, the highest law of the law and the foundation with which all other laws might be consistent, protected the right of civil society to protest. They also specifically outlaw overthrow of government by force or violence, the definition of coup d’etat.

The trial judge drily commented that such avenues of argument were useful only to the 10’s convinced supporters but were an unpersuasive defence before the court.

Meechai believes that governments can be legitimised by legal process alone. Procedurally, if a coup government appoints a legistature and promotes an interim constitution, the appointed legislators pass new laws, then the new, final constitution makes it all legal!

The judge instructed the defence that he would allow no questions of the bills under consideration by the NLA, the very substance of the protest with which the 10 are charged. He said he’d get too tired reading all this into the trial transcript.

It was mentioned that some of the laws passed by the NLA, such as those against money laundering and corruption, were overturned by the Constitutional Court. The military’s NLA didn’t do such a good job, after all.

Meechai further testified that he was unaware of the charges faced by the 10 but was testifying solely about the trespass. This begs the question, if he didn’t know the defendants were being charged with violence and incitement which could result in a 27 year sentence for each, why did he agree to testify?

The public prosecutor kept asking the witness, in several different ways, who Meechai knew to be the “leaders”. Although the witness wisely stated he really didn’t know, this appeared a bald attempt to pin the weight of these charges on defendant former Thai senator Jon Ungphakorn who, of course, should have know better.

Wallop Tangkhananurak and Tuenjai Deetes, two former NLA members, testified in the afternoon session but just confirmed the fact that the protesters were there.

It may be appreciated that a two-month court trial is a tremendous hardship on these defendants who also have real lives, families and jobs to do. The defence proposed to the court that each defendant appear in court in rotation when their individual particulars become substance of the case against them and testimony is expected to include them.

This sensible and compassionate suggestion was (of course) rejected by the judge when the prosecutor insisted each and every accused must be present during each trial day just in case a witness is called on to identify them by face. Ten lawyers are working for two months of trial days in addition to months of preparation for these human rights defenders. This is yet another case of judicial torture not less than LM accused Somyot’s rolling zipcode in prison van.

This case is another blatant example of how little the Thai state cares about freedom. Perhaps I should rephrase that: The Thai state cares deeply about freedom…let’s make it illegal!

The trial judge can be expected to have little insight or perspective regarding this trial. He’s the same monster who sentenced Uncle SMS, the 61 year old grandfather, Akong Ampon Tangnoppakul, to 20 years for lèse majesté even though it was not proved Akong sent the texts.

CJ Hinke

Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)

I need to apologise in advance to the Thailand 10, many of whom are my friends and FACT petition signers. Although I wrote day reports for every session the the Computer Crimes Act lèse majesté  trial of FACT signer Chiranuch Premchaiporn, webmaster of Thailand’s independent news portal Prachatai, I simply cannot afford that level of commitment for two months. Other responsibilities and activism also require my attention.

Thai govt is becoming a de facto welfare state. Whether we are defendants, supporters, media or lawyers, Thailand has a full-time job for us. Sheesh—and I thought I was retired!

Somebody must write day reports for the trial of the Thailand 10, in Thai and English. Perhaps a rotating team of reporters so full responsibility doesn’t fall to one person.

Won’t YOU volunteer for this occasionally?

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