Student faces two lese majeste charges in 24 hours

Sirichai “New” Natueng, a Thammasat University student, shows a three-fingered salute in front of the Thanyaburi police station on Thusrday. (Photo from United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration Facebook)
Sirichai “New” Natueng, a Thammasat University student, shows a three-fingered salute in front of the Thanyaburi police station on Thusrday. (Photo from United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration Facebook)

A Thammasat University freshman has been granted bail after facing two separate lese majeste charges in the span of fewer than 24 hours.

His case was also the first in which a court approved an arrest warrant for a political demonstrator since the strict enforcement of all laws was announced by the prime minister on Nov 19 last year to maintain order.  

In the first case, Sirichai “New” Natueng, a student at the Puey Ungphakorn School of Development Studies, was charged with insulting the king (Section 112 of the Criminal Code) and vandalising properties (Section 358).

Mr Sirichai, a member of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, allegedly spray-painted text about taxes and the abolition of Section 112, ironically one of the offences he was accused of committing, over an image of royals and the nameplate of the university’s Rangsit campus in six spots in the area in total. The incident took place on Jan 10.      

He was taken into custody by Khlong Luang provincial police of Pathum Thani at 9pm on Wednesday.

Mr Sirichai said after being granted bail that he had asked to exercise his right to a lawyer but police denied his request.

He was then taken to Khlong Luang police station and was able to talk to his lawyer only two hours later. The call, however, was cut short by police who seized his phone.

He was then taken to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 in the same province, but after 10 minutes police took him back to his dormitory for a search.

He claimed the warrant was shown only after the search was done instead of before. Police also did not make records real-time during the search. Instead, they did it later at the police station, which made it hard to prove whether the evidence seized during the search was really from his room.

Later, the activist was brought back to Khlong Luang station and police took him to the Thanyaburi Court to seek his detention on Thursday.

The court approved his detention and granted him bail on a surety of 150,000 baht — 30,000 baht in cash and the rest was guaranteed by a lecturer at the university.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), whose members represent him, posted in social media about its seven observations about this case.

First, the court approved his arrest warrant for the lese majeste charge even though the persons in question are not protected by the law. Section 112 reads: “Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”

Second, the court approved a nighttime search warrant, specifically from 9pm onward. The Criminal Procedures Code allows a search to be done only from sunrise to sunset with a few exceptions — when it is a continuation of a search that has begun during the daytime, when it is a severe emergency, or when arresting a serious crime suspect, which requires special permission first.

Third, police only allowed him to talk to lawyers only briefly and he could not be later contacted.

Fourth, the police refused to reveal where they detained him. Instead, they lied to his friends who showed up in his support and moved him to various places. They explained later the disclosure of the place might obstruct the search.

“This sets a extremely dangerous precedent since it puts a person outside the protection of the law. It is illegal detention and a short-term forced disappearance — a critical violation of rights,” THLR wrote.

Fifth, police could not take him to Border Patrol Police headquarters. By law, a suspect must be detained at the office of interrogators.

Sixth, police began the search without showing a warrant. They showed them only after the search was done. They did not make records at the place of search. Instead, they made them hours after the evidence was brought back to the police station, making it impossible to verify whether the items were really from the suspect’s room.

Seventh, it marked the first lese majeste case that a court approved an arrest warrant for since Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha issued a statement on Nov 19 he would enforce all laws to deal with demonstrators. Up until now, the court denied police requests for arrest warrants. Other suspects were simply summonsed to acknowledge charges and then freed.

Pol Maj Gen Chayut Marayat, chief of Pathum Thani police, told Thairath Online later on Thursday that in practice police could arrest a suspect any time since he has a warrant on him. 

“Police also read him his rights and charges against him. As well, he had a call to his lawyer,” he said.

Since there were a lot of his friends showing up in solidarity, police took him to Khlong Luang station but told his friends he would be brought to the Border Patrol Police Region 1. “This is just a police technique, not a deception,” he said.  

Later at 12pm on Thursday, Pratunam Chulalongkorn police of Pathu Thani arrived at the Thanyaburi court and informed Mr Sirichai of another lese majeste charge for the same incident, which also covered their jurisdiction.

They did not seek to detain him and it now depends on prosecutors whether to charge him in court.

Since Nov 19 last year, 40 demonstrators faced lese majeste charges in 28 cases. The youngest was 16 years old.