Student activists, reporter acquitted in referendum case

Student activists, reporter acquitted in referendum case

Relatives and supporters of the students and the reporter congratulate them after the court acquitted them on Monday. (Photo by Saichon Srinuanchan)
Relatives and supporters of the students and the reporter congratulate them after the court acquitted them on Monday. (Photo by Saichon Srinuanchan)

RATCHABURI: The provincial court has acquitted four students and a reporter charged with violating the constitutional referendum law in 2016.

They were prosecuted for collaborating to publicly disseminate content inconsistent with facts or in a violent, aggressive, impolite, seditious or threatening manner for the purpose of discouraging voters from casting the ballot or voting in a particular way on the 2016 constitution draft.

On July 10, 2016, three students of the New Democracy Movement -- Pakorn Areekul, Anan Lokate and Anucha Rungmorakot -- travelled from Bangkok to Ban Pong to give moral support to the activists who had been arrested earlier for breaking the referendum law. Taweesak Kerdpoka, a reporter from the Prachatai news outlet, also travelled with them in the same vehicle.

Police seized from them fliers, documents, stickers, bookmarks and vinyl posters. One of their friends, Panuwat Songsawat, had been arrested earlier for the same charge. 

The students claimed they came to give moral support for Boriboon Kiangvarangkoon, a core red-shirt leader in the district, who had been arrested for violating the referendum law earlier. Mr Taweesak said he travelled with them to report the news.

The stickers the student brought with them were of the same kind as that Boriboon put on his shirt. They had the text: “Let’s vote no on Aug 7 on the future we can’t choose.”

The court saw nothing wrong with this as the defendants and Boriboon are known to share the same political ideology.

It also viewed the prosecutor could not prove the evidence seized from the defendants had been used to commit the crime and acquitted them.

However, the students were found guilty of a minor charge of failing to cooperate with officials when they refused to give fingerprints. For this, the court fined them 1,000 baht but as they confessed, the fine was halved. Since had already been detained overnight at the police station, they need not pay the fine in cash.

The police were also told to return them the seized materials.

Mr Pakorn said after the ruling they would discuss whether to press charges against the police for damages since some of them could not apply for any job during the 18-month trial.

Mr Taweesak said he felt deprived of his rights and freedom. “ I showed my reporter ID card from the start and the police could have checked my identity with my boss. They also had no proof I participated in the students’ activity.

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