Court denies Thanathorn bail request for student

Court denies Thanathorn bail request for student

Progressive Movement chief seeks more awareness of pretrial justice

Benja Apan, a student under the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, gives a speech during a rally at the Ratchadamri intersection in Bangkok on March 24 this year. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Benja Apan, a student under the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, gives a speech during a rally at the Ratchadamri intersection in Bangkok on March 24 this year. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

A court has dismissed a bail request by Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit for the temporary release of Benja Apan, a Thammasat third-year student charged with royal insult.

The Bangkok South Criminal Court on Thursday ruled against the request after the chairman of the Progressive Movement put up 200,000 baht as a bond in one of the cases against her.

Ms Benja faced lese majeste charges for her speeches at two rallies in Bangkok, at the Sino-Thai Tower building on Aug 10 and at the German embassy on Oct 26 last year.

Mr Thanathorn offered to be her bail guarantor in the Sino-Thai Tower case, in which police sought to continue detaining Ms Benja, citing the need to question more witnesses.

For the German embassy case, human rights lawyers used 200,000 baht from the Ratsadon fund, which raises money from donations, as a surety.

The court on Thursday dismissed both bail requests.

For the Sino-Thai Tower case, the court ruled there was no new reason to change its previous detention order.

In the German embassy case, the court viewed Ms Benja had breached the terms of her earlier release, which require that she not tarnish the monarchy. The court said there was reason to believe if she was released, she would cause danger or more damage.

Mr Thanathorn said he saw injustice in the procedure and would like to show that many people wanted change.

In his view, the deprivation of a person's right to pretrial bail was an injustice.

"The court reckons the offence is serious and Ms Benja could escape. But in the past, there were inconsistencies — some suspects of the same offence were allowed bail such as Patsaravalee "Mind" Thanakitvibul while others were not," he told reporters.

He added Ms Benja was an engineering student who excelled in her studies and had an ambition of becoming an astronaut. Her examination was due in December.

"Ms Benja should be allowed bail so she could continue with her study and join activities with her friends," said the former leader of the now-defunct Future Forward Party.

He added he would like to see more people stand in solidarity with the students.

"I'm also one who has been affected by the royal defamation law, which has been used as a political weapon to gag dissidents," he said.

He stressed that a demand for reform of the monarchy was not tantamount to toppling it and talks about change aim to strengthen the institution in line with a democratic rule, he said.

Mr Thanathorn was charged with royal insult for his criticism of the government's handling of Covid-19 vaccine procurement. A factory owned by the king makes one of the main vaccines Thailand uses.

The lese majeste law is Section 112 under the Criminal Code. Each charge of it — insults, threats or defamation of leading royals — carries 3-15 years in jail.

Other laws were used in its place for a few years. They are the Computer Crime Act, which carries penalties from 5-10 years and/or fines from 20,000 to 100,000 baht, and the national security law (Section 116 of the Criminal Code) for charges such as sedition, which carries jail terms up to seven years.

Strict enforcement of the law resumed in earnest last year after students and young people staged protests, with reform of the monarchy one of their agenda. 

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