Court nod dismays vote law critics

Court nod dismays vote law critics

The Constitutional Court in effect refused to step in to the debate over the Referendum Act, including harsh restrictions on debate and freedom of speech. (Post Today photo)
The Constitutional Court in effect refused to step in to the debate over the Referendum Act, including harsh restrictions on debate and freedom of speech. (Post Today photo)

Critics of the referendum law called Wednesday for the run-up to the Aug 7 referendum to be made an inclusive process in the wake of a Constitutional Court ruling that a controversial section of the law is in line with the interim charter.

All nine court judges agreed that Section 61 of the Referendum Act does not violate the 2014 interim charter. The section forbids publication of "false information" by any media which might influence the way the public votes. It also bars people from spreading information in a "violent, aggressive, vulgar or coercive" manner.

The ruling is in response to the Office of the Ombudsman's petition seeking a judicial review. Critics led by the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw) group and academics are concerned the section goes against the interim charter's clause on freedom of expression.

Jon Ungphakorn, head of the iLaw group, said he felt disappointed but despite the ruling the Election Commission (EC), which is responsible for enforcing the referendum law, and the regime can still ensure open discussions of the draft charter in the five weeks before it is held.

"The court ruling doesn't affect those who are arrested [on suspicions of violating the referendum law]. It's still not too late [for authorities concerned] to improve the atmosphere." he said.

Chusak Sirinil, chief of Pheu Thai's legal team, expressed concern the ruling could be exploited to use against critics of the charter draft.

He said open discussions of the draft charter can proceed while asking critics to exercise caution.

EC chairman Supachai Somcharoen declined to comment on the court ruling, saying he did not think the issue had anything to do with the referendum process in the first place.

EC member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said the EC will from now on strictly enforce the referendum law.


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