Thai Court Frees Pro-Democracy Activist-Leader

Subel Rai Bhandari and Nontarat Phaicharoen
2022.02.28
Bangkok
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Thai Court Frees Pro-Democracy Activist-Leader A supporter hugs pro-democracy activist and human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa after authorities released him on bail from the Bangkok Remand Prison, Feb. 28, 2022.
Thai News Pix/BenarNews

A generation of young Thais will carry on fighting for human rights, liberty and equality, a prominent pro-democracy activist vowed Monday night as he walked free from a jail where he spent more than 200 days on royal defamation charges.

The South Bangkok Criminal Court had agreed to release Arnon Nampa on bail until May 28 under strict conditions after he posted a bond of 300,000 baht (U.S. $9,100), his lawyers said in a statement.

“I was in prison, had time to think and reviewed many things about the fight. Today, the fight for rights, liberties, equality has become the mission of the new generation,” Arnon, a 37-year-old human rights lawyer, said after he emerged from the Bangkok Remand Prison.

His mother, Malai Nampa, was among the throng of hundreds of supporters who turned out to meet Arnon outside the prison gates.

“Today, I am very happy. I was longing for this day, for us to meet again. I have prepared his favorite food for him,” Malai told reporters.

During his time in jail, her son said he shed 7 kilos (15 pounds) and kept up an exercise regimen.

“Inside, I exercised every day. I looked at Prayuth’s face and jumped rope every day” Arnon said, referring to Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Thailand’s prime minister and the former army chief who led a military coup in 2014.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a legal aid group representing Arnon, claimed he had never been seen as a flight risk and that other defendants facing similar charges had been released.

“The defendant was detained for more than six months without any evidence to prove his guilt,” TLHR said.

The Bangkok South Court placed strict conditions on Arnon’s bail including requiring him to abstain from all activities that can be deemed “detrimental to the monarchy” or cause obstruction to court proceedings, according to his lawyers. Arnon also is not allowed to attend any political activities or post messages on social media asking people to join.

“I will strictly respect the court’s conditions,” Arnon told reporters after being released.

At the same time, Arnon said he would not turn his back on those seeking changes in the government.

“If the people have anything for me to do, to speak, I will do my duty,” he said.

Since July 2020, a largely youth-led movement has been protesting for Thailand’s constitution to be rewritten, the monarchy to be reformed and for Prayuth to step down. At its peak, rallies drew thousands of demonstrators.

Arnon was one of the first pro-democracy leaders to criticize the monarchy publicly when he spoke out while dressed as a wizard during a Harry Potter-themed protest in August 2020.

He faces trial on 24 charges including sedition and Lese-Majeste, a law that makes it illegal to defame, insult or threaten the monarchy. It carries penalties of up to 15 years in prison for each conviction.

Arnon had been released in June 2021 after being detained for 113 days but was taken into custody again two months later.

“As long as the country is not democratic, prisons will be home for activists,” Arnon said. “Seeds we harvested two years ago; they are waiting to bloom. There is nothing that can destroy this, the new generation.”

Other leaders still jailed

Arnon is the fifth pro-democracy activist to get temporary freedom from prison since December.

On Monday, TLHR said at least five other activists remained in pre-trial detention. However, none of them face Lese-Majeste charges.

Earlier this month, the lawyers group said it had documented 3,448 charges brought against 1,767 people linked to the protests between July 18, 2020, and the end of last month. At least 169 people, including 13 juveniles, face Lese-Majeste, while 116 face sedition charges.

Bencharat Sae Chua, a lecturer at Mahidol University in Bangkok, said the Thai political establishment sees the youth-led pro-democracy movement as a threat because the protests addressed grievances against the monarchy “explicitly and publicly.”

She also said the temporary release of the protest leaders comes at a time when there have been no large organized rallies in recent months.

“We don’t know what would happen if these people would break out of those conditions and get into large-scale protests again,” she told BenarNews last week.

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