LEGAL ACTION against the mother of a political activist has attracted concerns about the worsening human rights situation in Thailand, with Human Rights Watch yesterday saying the junta “has sunk to a new low”.
The Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights (TANC) also warned yesterday that charging Patnaree Chankij with lese majeste could provoke hatred among the public.
Patnaree, 40, is the mother of anti-coup activist Sirawith Seritiwat.
The TANC directed its warning at the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). “The NCPO should be aware that to prosecute an innocent could lead to deep enmity among the public because the lese majeste crime is such a sensitive issue. Those taking the matter incorrectly could develop hostility towards Sirawith and his mother. Some others would be indignant at the NCPO,” the group said in a statement.
“That does not do any good to anyone. Moreover, it contradicts the NCPO’s promises to bring about peace in Thai society,” it said.
The statement in support of Patnaree asked that she be granted bail tomorrow.
Meanwhile, netizens have launched an online campaign on change.org, calling for Patnaree’s release. So far, it has gained support of at least 5,000 people.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch yesterday condemned the charge against Patnaree, who allegedly failed to criticise or take other action against her son’s friend, Burin Intin, who sent her Facebook messages containing alleged lese majeste comments.
Burin was arrested on April 27 for posting a Facebook commentary that authorities considered offensive to the monarchy.
“The Thai junta has sunk to a new low by charging an activist’s mother under the ‘insulting the monarchy’ law, which has been systematically abused to silence critics,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Prosecuting someone for her vague response to a Facebook message is just the junta’s latest outrageous twist of the lese majeste law,” he said.
“In the name of protecting the monarchy, the junta is tightening a chokehold on free expression and heightening a climate of fear across Thailand,” Adams said. “The arbitrary enforcement of the lese majeste law against an activist’s mother is yet another example of Thailand’s blatant contempt of its human rights obligations.”
Police contended yesterday that Patnaree had exchanged messages defaming the monarchy with another accused, and not just acknowledged the insulting texts with the Thai colloquial “yes”.
Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) superintendent Police Colonel Olarn Sukkasem said at yesterday’s press conference that police could not provide precise details of Patnaree’s actions because it involved the investigation process, which, according to the law, was confidential.
The police clarification came following alleged false news spread since Friday that Patnaree was charged with lese majeste, a crime punishable with up to 15 years in prison, because she had replied to Facebook messages of Burin with the common Thai usage “Ja”.
There was more debate consequently about the interpretation of the Thai word because it does not have a precise meaning and could have various connotations ranging from acknowledgement, acceptance, to sarcasm. Netizens expressed frustration, seeing the charge and worried about the broad interpretation of lese majeste.
Pol Colonel Olarn yesterday dismissed those reports and remarks. He said, “There was more to the text exchanges than just ‘ja’. We found that Patnaree was the one initiating the conversation [involved with insulting the monarchy].”
“The early parts of the conversation showed their opinions about the current politics and it went beyond to cover what could constitute a crime under the lese majeste act,” Olarn added.
Patnaree’s son Sirawith is constantly involved in or has led demonstrations against the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and its government.
Some political critics deemed the move as politically motivated to put pressure on Sirawith, to prevent him from protesting against the current regime.
In response, Olarn clarified that normal legal procedure was being followed. The police had all the evidence and had presented them to the court, which issued the arrest warrant, he said, stressing that no special power was involved and it was not bullying the activist.
He assured that freedoms and rights were not being limited but warned that spreading false news could land one into lawsuits.