KHON KAEN, Thailand — A court in northeastern Thailand on Thursday began a closed-door trial of an activist law student arrested for sharing a BBC article about the country’s new king on Facebook.
Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa was arrested in December for sharing a profile of the king that was posted on Facebook by the BBC’s Thai-language service.
His arrest was the first under the country’s tough lese majeste law since the new king took the throne last November. Lese majeste, or insulting the monarchy, carries a penalty of three to 15 years’ imprisonment.
The BBC article included mentions of the king’s personal life when he was crown prince, including details of three marriages that ended in divorce and other material Thai news media can publish only at their own risk.
Jatupat is a prominent member of Dao Din, a small student organization that has protested against Thailand’s military government. He was presented the Gwangju Prize, a human rights award from The May 18 Memorial Foundation in South Korea, in May while he was in detention.
Jatupat’s parents greeted him briefly on Thursday as he emerged from a prison van in brown inmate’s clothing before he was taken to the detention area at Khon Kaen Provincial Court.
His father, Viboon Boonpattararaksa, said Jatupat has been denied bail 12 times. He said he hopes the hearing will present evidence to show the court that his son didn’t commit a serious crime and should be granted his freedom while proving his innocence.
With a sign hung in front of the courtroom reading “Secret Trial” in Thai, the first witness, an army officer who filed charges against Jatupat, entered while guards asked journalists who arrived earlier to leave.
Jatupat said during a lunch break that he was still hopeful despite being repeatedly denied bail. He said he was not angry at anyone, not even the army officer who brought charges against him. He said the problem was that free speech was being denied.
“I understand that he was just doing his job. It’s the system that I am fighting against. I want to remain calm and kind in this environment. I was smiling at him in the court room. Yes, he was the one who caused me to be in here today but the problem isn’t with him.”
Critics of the lese majeste law say it is used to silence political dissidents. The military regime that took power in 2014 has especially cracked down on commentary on the internet. According to iLaw, a group that tracks royal defamation cases, 82 people have been charged under the lese majeste law since the coup three years ago.
Jatupat was put under close watch by Thai authorities after November 2014, when he and several other Dao Din members held up a three-fingered salute, a resistance gesture borrowed from “The Hunger Games” movies, during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of the military junta that took power in a coup six months earlier. He was also among about a dozen students arrested in June 2015 for participating in anti-government protests.