Regime defends lese majeste arrest

Regime defends lese majeste arrest

Authorities coy on 'solid evidence' behind charges faced by activist's mother

Behind bars: Resistance Citizen group co-leader Sirawith 'Ja New' Seritiwat, left, talks with his mother, Patnaree Charnkij, who is facing lese majeste and computer crime charges.
Behind bars: Resistance Citizen group co-leader Sirawith 'Ja New' Seritiwat, left, talks with his mother, Patnaree Charnkij, who is facing lese majeste and computer crime charges.

Authorities insist there is solid evidence behind the arrest of an anti-coup activist's mother, despite information circulating online suggesting there is little to support a lese majeste charge.

Col Burin Thongprapail, a legal officer attached to the National Council for Peace and Order, said yesterday the lese majeste charge filed against Patnaree Charnkij was based on evidence which investigators were not willing to divulge to the media.

His comments came in response to unverified screen grabs circulating online of a Facebook conversation purportedly between Ms Patnaree and fellow lese majeste suspect Burin Intin, which show the only words written by Mr Patnaree were "ja" and "hur", Thai expressions of plain acknowledgment and sighing.

Col Burin called on those responsible for releasing the screen grabs "not to distort facts", which he said was damaging to authorities.

He insisted there was more to the conversation than what the screen grabs showed, and said authorities had not intimidated witnesses or used illegal means to obtain their evidence.

But he said authorities could not discuss the events which led to the lese majeste charge.

Human Rights Watch slammed the decision to file the charges against Ms Patnaree, who is the mother of prominent anti-junta activist Sirawith "Ja New" Seritiwat.

"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, HRW's Asia director.

"Prosecuting someone for her vague response to a Facebook message is just the junta's latest outrageous twist of the lese majeste law.

"In the name of protecting the monarchy, the junta is tightening a chokehold on free expression and heightening a climate of fear across Thailand."

NCPO spokesman Col Winthai Suvaree attempted to deflect the criticism, accusing HRW of focusing too heavily on the lese majeste issue instead of protecting the rights of "people who are really offended by law-breaking groups".

Military and police officers yesterday also searched the family home of Mr Sirawith, confiscating two computer CPUs, as they attempt to widen the lese majeste probe into his mother and several other suspects.

The operation came a day after the Military Court approved an arrest warrant for Ms Patnaree.

Ms Patnaree, who was held at Thung Song Hong police station, was transferred to a cell at the Crime Suppression Division yesterday for further questioning. She was visited by her son.

Court approval will be sought today to extend the detention of Ms Patnaree, Col Burin said.

Pol Col Olarn Sukkasem, a superintendent attached to the Technology Crime Suppression Division, yesterday warned that people who "distort facts" surrounding the case could face legal action.

"I can't discuss the details of the [Facebook] conversation, but their chat has been deemed a violation of the Criminal Code.

"Ms Patnaree didn't just say 'ja'. There was more," said Pol Col Olarn.

During a press briefing yesterday, authorities also produced a chart which they said showed links between Ms Patnaree and Burin Intin.

According to the chart, two Facebook accounts -- with user names "Burin Intin" and "Koo Za Krai Ja Tammai" -- were engaged in a chat with "Nuengnuch Charnkij", which was allegedly verified as an account belonging to Ms Patnaree.

The investigation allegedly showed that Mr Burin and Mr Sirawith joined the Resistant Citizen group on Sept 19, 2015. Mr Burin was introduced to Ms Patnaree later, and the pair allegedly kept in touch.

Mr Burin was detained on April 27 by police on lese majeste and computer crime charges.

Members of the Resistant Citizen group yesterday gathered at the Crime Suppression Division in a show of support for Ms Patnaree.

They accused authorities of attempting to intimidate anti-coup activists, particularly Mr Sirawith.

Only Mr Sirawith's 15 year-old sister and his grandmother Amporn Leeloh, 59, were at home during yesterday's raid of their home by military and police officers.

While the officers were searching the house, Mr Sirawith called his sister and learned about the raid.

While authorities launched the search at Mr Sirawith's home, his sister was forced by officers to sign a document before he was able to arrive.

Authorities also searched two other homes yesterday -- one in Bangkok's Nong Chok district and the other in Pathum Thani's Khlong Luang district. No details were available.

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