NCPO chips away at right to privacy
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NCPO chips away at right to privacy

Patnaree Chankij, mother of anti-coup Resistant Citizen Group leader Sirawith 'Ja New' Seritiwat is hauled off to remand prison on lese majeste charges many consider dubious. (File photo)
Patnaree Chankij, mother of anti-coup Resistant Citizen Group leader Sirawith 'Ja New' Seritiwat is hauled off to remand prison on lese majeste charges many consider dubious. (File photo)

What is the use of a constitution, provisional or permanent, if it can't protect our mothers?Did we know that Section 4 of the provisional charter, enacted on July 22, 2014, extends its protection to human dignity, rights, freedom and equality, all of which Thais enjoyed under the tradition of the constitutional monarchy and existing international treaties?

Did we know that the 2007 charter, the latest permanent one the country saw under the constitutional monarchy, devoted more than 30 sections to defending a person's many rights and liberties including the right to privacy?

More specifically, Section 36 of the charter torn up by the regime said a person shall enjoy the liberty of communication. Disclosure of information between people could not be forced except by law and in the interests of national security and maintaining public order.

Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.

Even if we did know, the safeguards provided by these past and present constitutions along with a belief in the rule of law seem to have come crashing down in the recent arrest of Patnaree, or Nuengnuch Charnkij, mother of anti-coup Resistant Citizen Group leader Sirawith "Ja New" Seritiwat for an alleged violation of the lese majeste law.

The case of Ms Patnaree, who was temporarily released on bail on Sunday, is controversial because the gravity of the charge seems to contrast with the evidence available so far to back it.

The authorities' reluctance to share any information with the public regarding details of the charge and manner in which investigators obtained evidence have given rise to suspicion that an intimidation campaign is going on.

After all, Ms Patnaree is better known as the mother of an anti-coup activist than being a rabble-rouser herself.

The legal officer attached to the National Council for Peace and Order Col Burin Thongprapail insisted yesterday that authorities have "solid" evidence behind the arrest of Ms Patnaree. The officer, however, said they can't reveal or discuss the evidence to the public as the case is still under investigation.

The Internet for Public Law or iLaw group tells a different story.

According to the group, whose staff were present when police investigators laid the charge against Ms Patnaree last Sunday, the suspect was given a written memo summarising the charge.

The group said the document alleged Burin Intin, one of eight netizens rounded up earlier for breaking the computer crime act but later charged with lese majeste, had sent messages offensive to the monarchy to Ms Patnaree via Facebook chat before telling her: "Do not chide me for having this conversation."

According to the police's memo, Ms Patnaree's reply to the message with the single word jaa showed that she agreed with and endorsed Mr Burin's messages.

According to iLaw, police investigators also said though Ms Patnaree replied to Mr Burin three times, she was charged over only one message with the word jaa.

The group said the investigators did not inform Ms Patnaree of any other alleged wrongdoings under the charge. iLaw, therefore, questioned whether it is legal for authorities to now claim that there were more alleged wrongdoings under the charge apart from what have been officially conveyed to Ms Patnaree.

In defending the handling of the case, Col Burin said there was more to the conversation than the single-word reply but authorities cannot reveal details.

Since many people have started to question how the authorities could have accessed private Facebook messages without the owner's consent, which seems to be the case with Mr Burin, the police officer only said the evidence had been obtained through legal means, without elaborating.

The charge against Ms Patnaree and what seems to be vast areas of ambivalence around it should be a worry not just to millions of social media users out there, our mothers included, but also to the sanctity of the rule of law.

What is the point of having our rights and liberties guaranteed in the charter or any other laws when our rulers can override them at any time by citing national security, public order and good morals?

At this point, there is no telling whether a citizen's rights to privacy and communication still exist. We don't know either how far the citation of national security, public order and good morals can be extended to suit the regime's agenda.

A constitution will only be useful if it can protect us, citizens. Will the draft that the military regime is offering us do the job? As a popular online poster suggested: Think, while it's still legal.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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