Students, reporter released on bail

Students, reporter released on bail

Four student activists and a reporter talk to their supporters after being granted bail in front of the Ratchaburi Court on Monday (Photo from ขบวนการประชาธิปไตยใหม่ New Democracy Movement - NDM Facebook)
Four student activists and a reporter talk to their supporters after being granted bail in front of the Ratchaburi Court on Monday (Photo from ขบวนการประชาธิปไตยใหม่ New Democracy Movement - NDM Facebook)

The Ratchaburi court has granted unconditional bail for the four student activists and a reporter arrested in the central province on Sunday for breaching the referendum law.

The court approved the surety of 140,000 baht each proposed by their lawyer.

Police earlier told the provincial court they had credible cause to believe these people were planning to distribute documents and leaflets on the draft constitution referendum in a manner that violates the law.

Three of the five suspects -- Pakorn Areekul, Anant Loket and Anucha Rungmorakot -- were from the anti-coup New Democracy Movement (NDM) while Taweesak Kerdpoka was a Prachatai reporter. They were taken into custody in Ban Pong district on Sunday.

Mr Anant was just released from Bangkok jail on July 6 after he was arrested on June 23 for distributing leaflets on opposing views on the draft charter in Samut Prakan province.

Since the police denied them bail during the interrogation stage, they spent the night behind bars at the Ban Pong police station.

The three NDM activists came to the central province to show moral support to the 18 people summoned to report to police for trying to set up a referendum fraud centre in one of their homes on June 16 while Mr Taweesak accompanied them to report on their activities. The 18 people were charged with violating the junta's order on illegal assembly.

The police said they found documents on opposing views on the draft charter in Mr Pakorn's pickup truck. They subsequently detained them for breaking Section 61 (2) of the 2016 referendum law.

Later on Sunday evening, the police also arrested Panuwat Songsawatchai, a Maejo University student at his home in the province on the same charge. The student attended the ceremony to open the referendum fraud centre earlier.

The police claimed to have entered his house by the authority of the junta's order No.13/2559 which allows officials to take such action for certain crimes. However, violating the referendum law is not among them.

Prachatai editor Chiranuch Premchaiporn told AFP Mr Taweesak was travelling in the same car as the activists to report on their activities.

Police stopped the car and found documents that they deemed were in breach of the referendum law.

"He is a reporter that covers human and environmental rights," she said. "He was just doing his job."

Video posted online showed the five shackled men making their way to court on Monday morning as supporters handed them roses.

The activists could be heard shouting: "Voting 'no' is our right, it is not against the law".

A message from Mr Taweesak on his Facebook page read: "Being arrested for referendum campaigning is bad, but what should we call being arrested for reporting on the referendum campaign?"

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha, who often rails against the media, said police were entitled to make the arrest.

"If (journalists) violate laws, they will be arrested," he told reporters, adding that the press often pushed for reform "but do not reform themselves".

Pramate Lekpetch, vice-chairman on rights and freedom of the Thai Journalist Association, and Supun Rakchua, his counterpart at the Confederation of Thai Journalists, told Prachatai on Monday the reporter should be released immediately without charge if there was no clear evidence he is complicit in the offence.

"They can't claim as evidence the fact that the reporter rode in the same car as the sources."

Kulchada Chaipipat, manager of the Southeast Asia Press Aliiance (Seapa), said: "From what we saw, police overreacted. There are witnesses that the reporter in question covered referendum campaigns from the start. He shouldn't be arrested.

"What happened showed the enforcement of Section 61(2) affects journalists."

Section 61 (2) of the 2016 Referendum Act says whoever gives or prepares to give assets or other benefits with monetary value to anyone in order to persuade him not to vote or to vote in any direction will face up to 10 years in jail and a fine not more than 200,000 baht. The court may also suspend their voting right for up to five years.

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