Thailand: First conviction of protester under military rule sets dangerous precedent

Today’s guilty verdict in the case of a peaceful anti-coup protester in Thailand sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of assembly and contributes to the climate of fear under military rule, Amnesty International said. 

In the first protest-related verdict handed down since the military took power, Pathumwan Municipal Courtin Thailand’s capital Bangkok today convicted Weerayuth Kongkanathan for violating martial law and a ban on gatherings of more than five people. He was sentenced to one month in prison suspended for a year, and ordered to pay a 3,000 Baht fine (USD$93). 

“Weerayuth has done nothing but peacefully exercise his right to demonstrate – he should never have been charged in the first place, and his conviction and sentence should be expunged,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director. 

“While it comes as a relief that Weerayuth has not been jailed today, the verdict sends an alarming message that peaceful protest is not tolerated in Thailand. This is likely to be the first in a series of planned trials of people who have voiced dissent against the army’s rule. We’re calling for it to be the last.” 

Weerayuth pleaded guilty, resulting in the judge handing down a more lenient sentence, but faces prison if he takes part in further peaceful demonstrations over the next year. 

He was first detained on 23 May 2014 for allegedly taking part in a peaceful protest in downtown Bangkok against the coup, a day after the military seized power and established the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to govern the country. 

After a week in police detention, Weerayuth was officially charged on 30 May at the Pathumwan Municipal Court for violating a new order prohibiting gatherings of more than five people. 

“The threat of imprisonment for peaceful protest is one of a number of measures contributing to a climate of fear in Thailand,” said Richard Bennett. 

“The NCPO should lift the martial law restrictions on peaceful protests and freedom of expression, and the charges against all those arrested for the peaceful exercise of their human rights must be dropped.”