Silence on Pai bodes ill for rule of law

Silence on Pai bodes ill for rule of law

An evening rally in Bangkok on Jan 14 demanded the release of Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, now better known as Pai Dao Din. (Photo by Thanarak Khunton)
An evening rally in Bangkok on Jan 14 demanded the release of Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, now better known as Pai Dao Din. (Photo by Thanarak Khunton)

We have the right to remain silent, all of us. The longer we keep mum about the case of Jatupat "Pai Dao Din" Boonpattararaksa, however, the higher the risk that faith in the law and the justice system will decline.

An alternative is that more authoritarian power will have to be used to shore up the apparently flawed system and to silence those who may dare question how justice has been applied in this case.

Do not forget the entire justice process has been on trial in the court of public opinion with the case of former teacher Jomsap Saenmuangkhote, who claimed to have been wrongly imprisoned over a hit-and-run case and has successfully requested a retrial.

The incarceration of Pai, 25, a lese majeste suspect and anti-coup activist, has not received nearly as much attention as the ex-teacher's. His imprisonment, since Dec 22, has not provoked public uproar, nor have the legal details of his case been dissected like Jomsap's.

It does not mean his is not a crucial case or yet another test of the justice system.

That Pai is a lese majeste suspect, a highly sensitive charge, is probably one reason why his continued imprisonment has not been discussed. That he has shown a consistent anti-junta stance might be another factor why his case and his fate have been greeted by public apathy and near silence.

With due respect to the rule of law, it's difficult not to have questions regarding how the Khon Kaen University student has been treated.

Police may claim it followed the law in filing lese majeste and violation of the Computer Crime Act charges against Pai for sharing on Facebook a BBC Thai story about His Majesty the King.

The lese majeste law, or Section 112 of the Criminal Code, forbids publication of anything deemed insulting to the monarchy. The Computer Crime Act also prohibits acts of entering onto a computer system information that is considered a "wrongdoing" in relation to national security or terrorism according to the Criminal Code.

So, Pai is apparently facing a computer crime charge even though it has not been proven yet the article he shared was a "wrongdoing" under the lese majeste law.

This is on top of another known fact that BBC Thai, which produced the article in question, has not even been sued let alone ruled to have insulted the monarchy.

Both Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon who is in charge of national security have vowed since early December to take legal action against BBC Thai for the story, but nothing seems to have been done.

The article may have been blocked in Thailand but it's apparently still available elsewhere. BBC Thai has insisted throughout the row that all the work it published, including the story on the King, met its journalistic standards.

Police have not bothered to explain why only Pai was prosecuted for the alleged crime when over 2,000 people shared the BBC Thai article. Why him?

If the charges against Pai were built on arguably debatable grounds, the reason why he has been denied the basic right to bail seems even more questionable.

It's true Pai was granted bail the same day he was arrested on the lese majeste charge on Dec 3. His temporary release, however, was revoked a few weeks later. One of the two reasons cited by the court was that Pai had posted a message on Facebook which allegedly satirised the state over its thirst for bail money.

According to police, Pai's statement was considered a challenge to state power and disrespected the rule of law. The court was convinced by the police's arguments and ruled that Pai's acts were causing damage to the nation.

Pai was jailed on Dec 22, after which all his five bids to exercise his basic right to bail have been denied.

The question is: Have state power and the rule of law become so fragile they can be threatened merely by Facebook sarcasm? If so, will they be strong enough to protect the rest of us?

With his latest bid to secure bail rejected, Pai will remain locked up until Feb 1. Amid the increasing silence befalling the country, his case and his continued incarceration speak volumes about the state of the law in this country.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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