2023 Report of the Ratsadonprasong Fund, Part 3: Defendants in the Maze

Graphic design by zerotwostudio

When it comes to the so-called “rights in the justice process,” one might expect that one’s experience in it will proceed in a linear fashion in time toward an end point, not circle back to the same spot, that one will gain access to rights one is entitled to. Such rights begin with the right to bail, which is not simply an end in itself, but a means to secure the right to fight one’s case with dignity in the courtroom—where the fight actually plays out, because a successful legal defense goes beyond whether a defendant is granted bail or denied bail. But since that is not the reality of many political defendants, it all turns into a maze.

In 2023, an increasing number of defendants found themselves stuck in the recesses of the maze-like judicial process, where they qualified for multiple modes of support from the Fund. The following diagram “Overlaps” presents counts of defendants served by our three modes of support, namely: bail posted at the beginning of each judicial level (counting only current cases as at the end of 2023), costs of travel incurred in the process (counting all year), and a monthly stipend for those who became inmates (counting all year). Over time, the three tangled tightly together to form a labyrinth of support that bears a family resemblance to the judicial maze.

Some of the overlaps are easier to comprehend. For instance, the yellow area where bail and costs of travel intersect accounts for: 1) cases where the defendant was reimbursed for travel costs as the trial was still ongoing, so the bail for their case was still in court at the end of the year, and 2) cases where the reimbursements occurred after the case was over and the bail was returned to the Fund but the defendant still had another or other ongoing cases that the Fund had posted bail for.

What may stump the reader the most is probably the intersection between bail and inmate support (the purple and the white areas) which consists of 7+11=18 people. How can a defendant who has become an inmate still have bail in court? Well, there are two explanations. Of the eighteen, some were previously granted bail during trial but were later imprisoned, but at the end of 2023 that particular bail was not yet returned, or the inmate had additional bail–with another court, for another case–whose withdrawal was still in process. Others were previously denied bail for a while before being released on bail in the same year, resulting in a record for both modes of support.

In the picture, the total number of individuals supported (663) does not include those whom a representative from the Fund accompanied to a court date to act as their bailor but ended up not being needed at the end of the day after the judge granted the defendant zero cash bail, or released them on oath, or–an unusual order–opted to “cancel the issuing of the detention order.” These happened to 32 individuals in 2023, of whom only 4 have not yet been counted among the 663 pictured, while the other 28 already occupy either the yellow area of bail plus costs of travel (15) or the green area of costs of travel only (13). So those four defendants are positioned outside of the walls of our labyrinth of support.

Next, “Bail Breakdown: By Number of Cases per Defendant” aims to demonstrate that the bail of no-name defendants combined carries equal weight to the bail of high-profile defendants, in the same spirit as the donation breakdown by category in our 2022 Report which concluded that “small donations do become big donations by the power of multiplication.”

We found that defendants who have one or two cases in our bail records account for ฿25.77m of bail or a whopping 54.6% of our bail in court currently (not including forfeited bail). Meanwhile, defendants with three or more cases, who may be called, roughly, “activist leaders,” account for less. Even those six at the very lead with ten or more cases have combined bail of ฿8.25m or only 17.5%, which is about the same amount as the combined bail of those with two cases, among whom there are 57.

Put another way, even if not a single baht of bail for activist leaders makes its way back to the Fund, more than half of donations to bail people out will still be there for us to funnel to defendants and detainees going forward.

Next, “Bail Breakdown: One-Case Defendants Only” is a cross-section that shows how the principle of multiplication operates on another level: that among those with one case only, the combined bail of defendants with cheaper bail may cost as much as that of defendants with more expensive bail. Note, for example, that the combined bail of those with bail amount lower than 40,000 baht (the white and the red slices: 273,500+3,930,000=4,203,500 baht) amounts to roughly the same as the combined bail of those with bail amount between 100,000-199,999 baht (the dark green slice: 4,180,000 baht). This shows once again how numbers that aren’t “newsworthy” are actually big once you factor in the number of people affected.

Lastly, “Costs of Travel Breakdown” lays out in greater detail than previously the distribution last year of donations to 375 defendants for costs of travel. Included are the average, the median, and the breakdown of support by amount per capita.

Note that the average (11,369.18 baht) is roughly twice the median (5,500 baht). This is because a select few defendants received many times the amount of travel support compared to others because they had multiple cases to fight and had to travel from other provinces to court, so their numbers skew the average up above the median.

To reiterate, a successful exit from the maze-like justice process does not solely hinge upon being granted bail (not to mention forfeiting/fleeing). But in the meantime, as people remain stuck in the maze, the Fund will continue trying our best to keep them—you—company, as we continue catching each other in the same spots.

Stay tuned for the next installment, “Detainees in the Maze.”