'I will go on hunger strike'

'I will go on hunger strike'

Rally boss 'Penguin' issues stark warning

Members of the Ratsadon group flash the three-finger salute as they arrive at the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok. They were there to attend the court's examination of evidence in the case against several anti-government protest leaders. Varuth Hirunyatheb
Members of the Ratsadon group flash the three-finger salute as they arrive at the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok. They were there to attend the court's examination of evidence in the case against several anti-government protest leaders. Varuth Hirunyatheb

Chaos erupted at the Criminal Court in Bangkok on Monday as anti-government protest leader Parit "Penguin" Chiwarak threatened to go on a hunger strike unless those charged with lese majeste were released from custody.

Paper cups flew around the courtroom and there were raucous calls from supporters of Mr Parit, a co-leader of the anti-government Ratsadon group, as he tried to address the court. The judge immediately adjourned and ordered another session, to be held privately later in the day.

Monday's hearing concerned two separate but connected events involving the youth-led demonstration on Sept 19-20 last year at Sanam Luang, where the Ratsadon plaque had been embedded.

Nine of the 22 defendants have been detained -- seven are charged with lese majeste and had their bail requests repeatedly denied.

They are Arnon Nampa, Mr Parit, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Patiwat Saraiyaem who are held at Bangkok Remand Prison. Jatupat "Pai" Boontararaksa, Panupong "Mike" Jadnok and Piyarat "Toto" Chongthep are detained at Thon Buri Prison, while Panusaya "Rung" Sithijirawattanakul is being held at the Central Women Correctional Institution.

Around 50-60 people, including staff from embassies and international organisations, were allowed to attend the hearing.

Among them was Pathomporn Kaewnoo from the Thai Lawyers for Human rights, who said Mr Parit read a prepared statement in which he criticised the role taken by the courts in the conflict.

The judge interrupted him and warned that if he continued, the court would order a meeting behind closed doors with Mr Parit alone. He then ordered the defendants out of the courtroom and suspended the hearing.

Before anyone had time to leave, however, Mr Parit stood on a chair and continued to read his statement, urging that "truths" be proven instead of simply imprisoning the accused.

He said he would go on a hunger strike and consume only water, sweet drinks and milk until the court came to its senses and returned the right to bail that is usually afforded to defendants in lese majeste and political cases.

As the bailiffs and guards rushed to take him away, Ms Panusaya walked up to embrace her friend and co-accused. Their supporters then encircled them with locked arms, enabling Mr Parit to finish his statement amid some applause.

Another defendant, Mr Somyot, also told his lawyer the hearing should not proceed because the defendants had not been allowed to fight it properly.

The Corrections Department detained Mr Piyarat, Mr Jatupat and Mr Panupong at Thon Buri Prison, despite the court ordering that they be kept at Bangkok Remand Prison. The defence says that was unfair since it was inconvenient for lawyers and relatives to visit them.

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