Ombudsmen petition charter court over referendum law

Ombudsmen petition charter court over referendum law

Core members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship show the petition they submitted to the Constitutional Court on Monday. The document asked the court to rule on the Office of the Ombudsman's petition in seven days. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)
Core members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship show the petition they submitted to the Constitutional Court on Monday. The document asked the court to rule on the Office of the Ombudsman's petition in seven days. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)

Ombudsmen have petitioned the Constitutional Court to rule whether a clause in the 2016 referendum law violates freedom of expression endorsed in the 2014 interim constitution.

The Office of the Ombudsman, by Preeda Wethayawong, director of the 3rd Investigation Office, and Sonthaya Thongdee, a lawyer of the Legal Affairs office, submitted the document on Monday afternoon.

It asked the court to decide whether the second paragraph of Section 61 of the 2016 Referendum Act is in breach of Section 4 of the 2014 interim constitution regarding freedom of expression.

Raksagecha Chaechai, secretary-general of the Office of the Ombudsman, said the petition was finalised at a meeting of the office's executives earlier on Monday.

The move followed a complaint filed by the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw) group and academics last month, stating that certain paragraphs of the law's Section 61 restricted people's right to exercise their freedom of expression ahead of the referendum.

Mr Raksagecha said the Constitutional Court would decide whether to accept the petition for consideration.

The second paragraph under Section 61 of the referendum law reads: "Anyone who disseminates text, pictures or sounds that are inconsistent with the truth or in a violent, aggressive, rude, inciting or threatening manner aimed at preventing a voter from casting a ballot or vote in any direction or to not vote shall be considered disrupting the referendum".

The prohibition applies to comments disseminated through newspapers, radio and TV broadcasts, as well as electronic channels or other means.

While individuals could face up to 10 years in jail, if the offences are committed by a group of more than five people, each one will face imprisonment of 1-10 years, a fine from 20,000 to 200,000 baht and a 10-year revocation of voting rights. 

On the other hand, Section 4 of the 2014 interim charter reads: "Human dignity, rights, liberties and equality previously enjoyed by Thais under constitutional monarchy and international obligations shall be protected under this constitution".

The controversial words are "violent, aggressive, rude", which the petitioners find vague and subjective and opening the door to the use of discretion by law enforcers.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, an expert lawyer, admitted earlier such words are not used in existing Thai laws, a view shared by many academics who claim they have never seen them.

In a related development, core members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship led by Jatuporn Prompan, Nattawut Saikuar, Tida Tawornseth and Weng Tojirakarn also submitted a petition calling for the Constitutional Court to rule on the Office of the Ombudsman's petition in seven days.

The petition has been closely watched because it may result in a delay of the referendum, slated for Aug 7.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said last week if the court decided the referendum law violated the interim charter, the referendum might be delayed "if necessary".

But several ministers and constitution writers disagreed, saying the clause could simply be removed and the roadmap to a general election intact.

"The only thing that can delay the referendum is a nuclear bombing or a world war," Meechai Ruchupan, chief of the constitution writers, said on Friday.

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