Police: More to conversation than 'ja'

Police: More to conversation than 'ja'

Sirawith 'Ja New' Seritiwat, a leader of the anti-coup New Democracy Movement, talks with his mother, Patnaree Charnkij, who was detained on Friday on charges of collaborating to insult the monarchy and commit computer crime, at the Crime Suppression Division on Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
Sirawith 'Ja New' Seritiwat, a leader of the anti-coup New Democracy Movement, talks with his mother, Patnaree Charnkij, who was detained on Friday on charges of collaborating to insult the monarchy and commit computer crime, at the Crime Suppression Division on Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

Police have challenged reports about flimsy lese majeste evidence against the mother of a student activist, while academics have called for fair treatment in the case.

Col Burin Thongprapai, chief of staff of the legal working panel of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), led a joint military and technology crime police briefing on Saturday afternoon to respond to heavy criticism of authorities' handling of the case.

Patnaree Charnkij, whose son Sirawith "Ja New" Seritiwat is a key anti-coup protester, was arrested on Friday on charges of collaborating to insult the monarchy and to break the computer crime law on national security.

An unverified copy of the charge leaked online showed that all she said during the conversation was ja, a Thai expression of acknowledgement and the equivalent of okay, yes or all right, when the other party asked her not to chide him for sending the message.

Early reaction to the reports was dismay that the concept of "silence is consent" might now be applied in lese majeste cases.

But police said at the briefing that the accused contributed more to the conversation than just typing one word.

"We insist Ms Patnaree did not utter just one word as reported earlier. There's more to the conversation which we can't reveal at this stage," said Pol Col Olarn Sukhasem, commander of the technology crime police.

But Thai Lawyers for Human Rights continued to challenge the police statements after the briefing.

“As an organisation directly providing legal aid to Ms Patnaree, we insist that in the chat in question, the ‘Nuengnuch Chankij’ Facebook user did not interact much and typed only a few short sentences, none of which could be deemed insulting to the monarchy," it said in a statement.

"She ended the conversation with ‘ja’, which led officials to accuse her of accepting and approving what the 'Burin Intin' user had said.”

Police maintain that “Nuengnuch Chankij” was Ms Patnaree’s account.

The content of lese majeste offences is always shrouded in mystery because the law prohibits it from being repeated anywhere except in a closed courtroom.

Police also maintained that they had followed protocols but could not reveal the extent of the offensive act in the interrogation stage.

"We followed all procedures and the court carefully considered the evidence we produced and approved the warrant. We didn't use any special authority [to arrest her]," said Pol Col Olarn.

"Those who said she was charged because of the word 'ja' are spreading a lie and they are liable to prosecution."

He also warned against clicking "Like" or "Share" as this might be punishable as well.

Police on Saturday told Mr Sirawith they were going to search the family's house. The young activist asked them to wait because only his sisters and grandmother were there. He later posted on Facebook that police showed up but his grandmother did not sign the consent form. They nonetheless took two computers before he reached home.

Ms Patnaree, 40, is a widow and the breadwinner of the family. She has three daughters in addition to Mr Sirawith, her firstborn. Her mother also lives with her.

A group of academics on Saturday visited Ms Patnaree at the Crime Supression Division and issued a statement. They were led by Anusorn Unno, dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology at Thammasat University, and joined by members of the Network of Academics for Civil Rights. 

They said the charge against Ms Patnaree was unjustified as she did not type anything insulting. Such a broad interpretation, they warned, could lead to the use of the law for widespread intimidation.

The statement was issued before police said that Ms Patnaree had participated more in the conversation than earlier reporte indicated.

The academics also urged fair consideration of bail for Ms Patnaree since she had shown sincerity by turning herself in.

They also urged the junta to realise that lese majeste prosecutions of innocent people would lead to hatred among the people because of the sensitivity of the issue. That would run against the junta's pledge to restore peace in society.

"We hope the NCPO will respect the law and stop arresting people without due respect to judicial process," the statement said. "We also hope the military court will allow her bail when she appears in court on Sunday."


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