Trial of motorcade duo opens without one defendant

Trial of motorcade duo opens without one defendant

Court sets May 2 for next hearing in sedition case after hospitalised hunger striker ‘Tawan’ fails to show

Trial of motorcade duo opens without one defendant
Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon speaks to a reporter from inside a police van after her arrest on Feb 13. She remains in hospital on a hunger strike in protest against the denial of bail to people charged in political cases. (Photo Supplied/Wassayos Ngamkham)

The first hearing in the sedition trial of two young activists accused of attempting to disrupt a royal motorcade took place on Tuesday without one of the defendants, both of whom are on hunger strikes.

Natthanon “Frank” Chaimahabud, 23, was brought to court from the Central Correctional Hospital despite his weak condition, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. His colleague Tantawan “Tawan” Tuatulanon, 22, is at Thammasat University Hospital and was deemed unable to attend the hearing. No testimony was taken and the court set May 2 as the date for the next hearing, the lawyers said.

Ms Tantawan and Mr Natthanon face charges arising from an incident on Feb 4 during a motorcade carrying Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Mr Natthanon honked his horn repeatedly and tried to pass a police car and Ms Tantawan argued with an officer when they were stopped.

The activists explained later that they were unaware that the police had set up barriers intended for a royal motorcade. They said they did not know who was in the motorcade and were not attempting to disrupt it, but were hurrying to attend a meeting.

The pair uploaded video of the encounter from their dash cam, leading to charges under the Computer Crime Act as well as Section 116, the law on sedition. They deny the charges.

A few days after the motorcade incident, Ms Tantawan attempted to conduct a public opinion survey about motorcades outside Siam Paragon shopping centre. The event attracted a crowd of royalist protesters who started a brawl with Ms Tantawan’s supporters.

With emotions running high on both sides of the debate, police arrested Ms Tantawan and Mr Natthanon on Feb 13. A day later they were denied bail and ordered detained pending further investigations. They began their hunger strikes on Feb 14 and were later transferred to different hospitals, where they remain under treatment.

Over the next 48 days, seven attempts were made by various people, including Ms Tantawan’s father, prominent academics and human rights activists to secure bail for the accused. The court rejected all the applications, while approving police requests to keep the duo in detention as they were still gathering evidence.

Prosecutors finally filed indictments on Monday, one day before the expiry of a 48-day deadline to do so. The accused can now be detained for the remainder of their trial, which could last for months, if the court continues to deny them bail.

In addition to sedition and computer crimes, Ms Tantawan and Mr Natthanon face charges of causing a nuisance, and excessively loud use of a car horn under the Land Traffic Act. Mr Natthanon was also accused of insulting an official under Section 136 of the Criminal Code.

According to TLHR, prosecutors justified the sedition charge by saying that the behaviour and attitude of the two defendants was rebellious to the point of causing unrest or encouraging people to violate the law. It was not an act of honest criticism that would be protected under the Constitution, they said.

However, the indictment did not explicitly object to bail for the pair, saying that should be left “to the discretion of the court”.