Eyewitness to injustice

Eyewitness to injustice

As a key witness in the deaths of six people killed during the military's dispersal of red-shirt protests in 2010, former paramedic Nathathida Meewangpla, who is now 40, has found herself at the other end of the justice process -- as a defendant in two criminal lawsuits that have seen her taken into custody without bail for more than three years pending court hearings.

After almost a year since the police charged her with lese majeste, a first witness hearing was held behind closed doors yesterday. The trial for another case involving a 2015 bombing at the Criminal Court is also moving at a snail's pace.

As questionable as the slow progress of these cases are the grounds for her wrongdoing, which are not as solid as they should be for such criminal prosecutions instigated by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the police.

The cases yet again raise doubts about the legitimacy of the prosecution of many politically-driven cases in the post-2014 coup era, especially lese majeste cases.

Ms Nathathida was in March 2015 charged as a suspect linked to the blast and had been held in prison until July 24 last year when she was finally granted bail. But the police filed a lese majeste charge, an offence under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, against her on the same day resulting in immediate custody without bail.

The complaint was lodged by Maj Gen Wijarn Jodtaeng, the legal chief of the NCPO, accusing her of sharing a message deemed insulting of the monarchy on two private Line group chats.

Lawyer Winyat Chartmontri, who is representing her pro bono, told Prachatai news agency earlier that many witnesses, who are government officials, in the blast case had postponed court hearings several times resulting in the case being delayed.

The two cases not only kept her in jail but may also have reduced the credibility of her as a witness in court over the six deaths at Wat Pathum Wanaram near Ratchaprasong intersection.

In 2012, she testified at the South Bangkok Criminal Court as a paramedic volunteer stationed at the temple, giving a vivid account of how she saw from close range gunshots being fired from the Skytrain tracks where soldiers were on guard. She did not hear gunshots fired back by protesters, she said.

The grounds of the alleged "wrongdoing" against her are not so rock-solid in a nature that they would demand this heavy-handed handling by law enforcement officers.

In the blast case, which involves other 15 suspects, she is identified as being part of a 50,000-baht money trail allegedly used for instigating the blast. Ms Nathathida, who comes from a low-income family, received a 5,000-baht transfer from a man linked to that trail. She said she borrowed it to pay her rent.

On the lese majeste offence, her lawyer said she only sent the captured message via private Line group chats to the person who wrote it, with the intention of reminding him not to do such a thing.

Given that criminal prosecution requires solid proof of both motive and the scale of damage their act could have caused, Ms Nathathida's act fails in both categories. The authorities' pursuit of the case against her has in fact amplified the incident.

Law enforcement officers should not overlook these universal legal rules when handling cases that could send someone to prison.

Similar to previous and ongoing cases, the lese majeste lawsuit against Ms Nathathida is seen by rights groups as being politically motivated.

As she has become a prime crime suspect, her vivid account of the six deaths that occurred that tragic day at Wat Pathum Wanaram could lose its credibility in the court case -- a case that is supposed to hold the perpetrators accountable.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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