Court drama as Thai protest leader’s life ‘hangs in balance’
An icon for the youth-led movement seeking to topple General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government, detained protest leader Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak is gambling with his life by refusing to consume solid food since March 15.
Observers and his lawyer have voiced concern for Parit, who was taken to Ramathibodi Hospital suffering severe fatigue on April 30 – 45 days into his hunger strike. They worry that another failure to secure release from jail could be life threatening for the protest leader.
The warning came ahead of Parit’s 10th plea for bail, scheduled to be heard by the Criminal Court today (May 6) along with the bail application of Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, a fellow leader of the Ratsadon anti-establishment movement.
Is it worth the sacrifice?
Titipol Phakdeewanich, political science dean of Ubon Ratchathani University, says both Parit and Panusaya are putting their lives at risk in a push to “restore justice”. Panusaya stopped consuming solids on March 30.
However, he wondered whether their sacrifice would be in vain given that “we cannot be confident justice will be restored because we have no confidence in the justice system”.
The academic believes both protest leaders will likely be granted bail to ease tensions but said they could then be sent back to jail if they violate court conditions.
“The court may not want the lives [of Parit and Panusaya] to be placed at risk as that would definitely result in a strong political backlash against the government,” he said.
Meanwhile, the government may not be too concerned about releasing them temporarily as the fresh wave of COVID-19 infections prevents large-scale protests, he added.
Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist from the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, agrees Parit’s life is at risk after 50 days of hunger strike.
However, the analyst sees little chance of him being granted bail. He said political tensions will be prolonged, but the protest leader’s supporters can only hold small rallies and face a crackdown if they provoke the authorities.
Parit’s lawyer Krisadang Nutcharus is also unsure if bail will be granted, given the court’s repeated denial of temporary release.
“I’m concerned about the state of his health and his education,” said the lawyer.
Parit has been unable to submit documents needed to suspend his university studies since the ongoing pandemic prevents anyone from visiting the prison, Krisadang explained.
‘Good signs’ detected
However, the lawyer and Parit’s family detect reasons to be hopeful ahead of today’s hearing.
For instance, Parit’s mother Sureerat said the fact that the court had agreed to hear the bail petition for the first time since he was detained on February 9 was a good sign.
Parit’s previous nine requests for bail were dismissed outright, his lawyer Krisadang said. Parit will either testify in person or online at today’s court hearing, the lawyer added.
Krisadang, who also represents Panusaya, said this time both protest leaders have agreed to follow any bail conditions set by the court.
The lawyer said Parit’s asthma problems, his Bt200,000 bail guarantee and Thammasat University vice rector Adisorn Juntrasook’s pledge to ensure Parit complies with bail conditions should be enough to secure temporary release.
The lawyer said both Parit and Panusaya, who face lese majeste and sedition charges among other criminal offences, have agreed to follow the court’s conditions because they are confident that their push for monarchy reform is directed at the government, not the Royal institution or any Thai king.
Three fellow protest leaders facing the same charges – Jatupat “Pai Daodin” Boonpattararaksa, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Patiwat “Mor Lam Bank” Saraiyaem – were released on bail in April after agreeing not to repeat any of their alleged offences, particularly insulting the monarchy.
Criminal Court Chief Justice Sittichot Intarawiset said on April 30 that the trio signed their petitions, accepted the terms for release and testified before the court in person, while Parit and Panusaya’s requests had been submitted by their lawyer without their signatures.
The bail requests submitted on April 29 by Parit and Panusaya’s lawyer simply asked the court to set conditions for their release. “The court cannot force them to do that. Courts do not force anybody,” Sittichot said.
The requests were resubmitted on April 30 with their signatures, but their lawyer told Thai PBS World on Tuesday that they did not specify any conditions for bail as that was the court’s duty.
More protests at court
Supporters of the anti-establishment movement are expected to gather at the Criminal Court again today to push for the temporary release of all protesters still behind bars.
One such rally in front of the court building on Sunday turned violent when protesters hurled objects into the court’s premises and used fireworks and explosives in a manner that the Office of the Judiciary described as threatening.
In a statement on Monday, the agency said protesters had used violence to pressure the Criminal Court into making decisions in their favour, regardless of the principles of law.
It also called for legal action against members of the Restart Democracy (REDEM) group – the Ratsadon offshoot which organised Sunday’s rally. Demonstrators also spray-painted the court’s signage and threw objects into the premises before dispersing when night fell.
During a previous protest on April 29, chants of “lackeys of dictatorship” were directed at the courthouse – a verbal attack seen by some as contempt of court.
The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration – which is led by Parit and Panusaya – plans to submit an open letter to the Criminal Court today calling for the “presumed innocent until proven guilty” principle to be followed.
“We are not pressuring the court. We are just calling for bail rights, which every [defendant] deserves,” the group said on Facebook, inviting people to sign a petition for “court justice” that aims to gather 100,000 names.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk