By KASAMAKORN CHANWANPEN,
ACADEMIC WARNS AS STUDENTS' RELEASE ORDERED
THE 14 anti-coup student activists are due to be freed this morning (Wed)after the first round of pre-trial detention ended yesterday and the Military Court rejected a police request to hold them for further 12 days.
However, police will continue to investigate the students, who face charges of sedition and violating a National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) ban on political gatherings of five or more people.
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha called the court’s move an act of mercy.
Analysts said the move was meant to ease growing pressure on the government, but more protests are expected. Some are already calling for the dropping of all charges against the students and the right to protest and publicly criticise the NCPO.
Prayut said the court granted mercy to the students so they should admit doing wrong, learn a lesson and not violate the ban again. Asked if he feared more moves on the streets after the students are released, the PM said it was up to those who want to protest and the students themselves.
“Is it right to think [that movement against the coup] is not wrong? Why can’t you wait just a bit longer? Do you really want a new government tomorrow?” he asked.
Chiang Mai University law lecturer Kritpot Somanawat said the move would reduce pressure on the government but said more political moves were likely in the near future. He said the government would face more challenge to its claim of legitimacy and it was time for the government to find a way to exit from power, as it had been shown to not be adept in managing the country.
After about three hours of court deliberation, Kritsadang Nutcharas, head of the detainees’ legal team, came out of the court and told reporters, who were not allowed inside, that the court had turned down the request by police to detain the activists for a further 12 days.
“At 10am, inquiry officers [from] Samranrat Police Station submitted a request [to the court] for another 12 days of pre-trial detention of the 14 students under the accusation of holding a political assembly in violation of NCPO’s order and Article 116 of the Criminal Code.
“The Court interrogated the defendants and the lawyers. We objected, saying that there was no reason to detain the students any further,” he said.
“The investigating officers insisted on requesting another round of pre-trial detention. [But] the Court took some time to deliberate and ordered that ‘[they] do not accept the request.’
“The meaning was that the 14 students will be released immediately,” the lawyer said, in front of the court.
The hearing for pre-trial detention began at 9am yesterday. Only relatives, lawyers, and some international observers were allowed inside the court. The latter group included representatives of the European Union, Amnesty International as well as embassy officials from the United States, France, Canada and more.
Some 100 supporters and reporters were prohibited from entering the court and had to stay at the entrance where barricades were put to prevent them from getting inside.
Supporters of the students set up a temporary camp for stage activities in order to show solidarity with the detainees, while waiting for the hearing. Pigeon origami, symbolising freedom, and photos of the 14 were put on the barricades.
The supporters also sang to cheer the 14 activists. Other key members of New Democracy Movement [NMD], which the 14 belong to, took turns to speak with a microphone to promote their stance.
Late in the morning when news came that the Court had turned down the police request for further pre-trial detention, the supporters all cheered and clapped, visibly satisfied with the release of the activists.
However, in the afternoon, the legal team revealed that the students could not be set free yesterday as no release warrants had been issued by the court – so the existing order to detain the students was still in effect until midnight.
As a result, their release has been postponed until 8am today.