Protesters on hunger-strike put Thai legal system in spotlight
After 46 days on hunger strike, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak failed again on Thursday (April 29) to secure bail release for himself and several other anti-establishment protest leaders.
This was the ninth time the Criminal Court has rejected the 22-year-old’s request for release. Parit and his fellow activists are behind bars on charges of sedition, lese majeste, and other offenses related to their roles in leading street protests last year.
The court saw “no grounds to change the previous order made by the Criminal Court and the Court of Appeals in not granting temporary release”.
Expecting a repeat
The protest leaders were first denied bail on February 9, when the court ruled they had repeated their alleged offenses after being released and might do so again.
In previous bail petitions, the detainees cited health problems, the need to return to university, take care of their families and to return to work. None of these reasons were accepted by the court.
However, the court did agree to grant bail to three activists after they agreed to refrain from repeating the alleged offenses, especially insulting the monarchy. Patiwat “Mor Lam Bank” Saraiyaem was released on April 9, followed by Jatupat “Pai Daodin” Boonpattararaksa and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk on April 23.
Still imprisoned along with Parit are human-rights lawyer Arnon Nampa and protest leaders Panupong “Mike” Jadnok and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul. Panusaya joined Parit on hunger strike on April 2.
Ratsadon anti-establishment protest leader and hunger striker Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak was today taken from Bangkok Remand Prison to Ramathibodi Hospital, after prison doctors expressed concern that he might go into shock due to his prolonged hunger strike.
‘Bail denial not in line with law’
Thammasat University law scholar Prinya Thaewanarumitkul disagrees with the decision to imprison the activists. He argues that refusing to grant bail over defendants’ tendency to repeat alleged serious offenses is not in line with the law.
In fact, the Constitution and Criminal Procedure Code guarantee temporary release for every defendant or suspect unless there are extraordinary circumstances.
“Denying provisional release is an exception to the law,” he said in a Facebook post on April 28.
For him, a detainee’s worsening health is sufficient grounds for the court to reverse its previous order.
Prinya, who is also vice-rector of Thammasat, said the reasons cited by the court for denying bail were not among the five grounds listed in the Criminal Procedure Code’s Article 108/1. According to the code, bail can be rejected if there is a risk of the accused absconding, tampering with evidence, creating a dangerous situation, or if the bail guarantee is unreliable or release would imperil an investigation or trial.
“A defendant’s guilt is judged in a court trial, but everybody has the right to temporary release. In any criminal case, a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” the academic pointed out.
“They cannot be treated as they are guilty before the court verdict. This is a basic constitutional right that protects us all.”
Pressure on court
Parit’s supporters, led by members of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration group, gathered at Criminal Court on Thursday to press for his release. Protesters directed chants of “lackey of dictatorship” at the court, while their leaders hurled accusations that constituted contempt of court, according to some legal experts.
On Friday, the group handed in petitions at the United States, German and Swiss embassies asking their governments to intervene in helping free the activists.
Opposition politicians, academics, and human rights activists have also joined the protest leaders’ families in calling for their release.
Parit’s mother Sureerat had her head shaved in protest outside the Criminal Court on Friday as she filed the 10th bail request for her son.
Parit has been on a hunger strike since March 15 and was admitted to hospital on Friday evening suffering from severe fatigue.
Supporters have launched online campaigns for his release and the hashtag #savePenguin has been top trending on Twitter.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk