A disability rights activist was jailed after posting a picture of a motorist occupying a parking spot reserved for disabled drivers and now faces up to two years in prison for libeling the man.
Manit Intharapim uploaded a picture on his Facebook page of a Toyota Hilux Revo of what he thought was someone illegally occupying a disabled parking space at a Tesco Lotus in Bangkok in August 2020.
The Wheelchair bound 54 year old asked whether the vehicle really needed to be there and asked the driver to contact him.
“At first when I posted it, I blurred the license plate, and said in an official manner, ‘Do you really need to park in this spot? Please phone me.’ I left the case alone for a week. No one contacted me, so I posted the same photo, but this time showing the license plate. People shared it all over the place and rained down the insults.”
Manit received a call from someone claiming to be the owner soon after he uncovered the car’s registration plate. The caller scolded him for posting the photo and damaging his reputation.
“Judging from his tone, he was really mad. He asked me ‘Who do you think you are?’ Who are you? What right do you have? You do this, it damages me.’ We couldn’t make sense of each other and we stopped talking. And then I forgot about it.”
Half a year later, a court warrant arrived in the post. That’s when Manit learned that the driver had retained a lawyer and sued him for libel, which carries a two-year jail sentence, at Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court.
The man he accused reportedly argued to the judge that his father was paralyzed in his lower body and needed a wheelchair to get around, so he qualified for the parking slot.
“He brought his father to present himself at the court. He couldn’t walk very well and had to use a court wheelchair, but the documents he submitted to the court as evidence didn’t say anything about that.”
On April 18, Manit went to a pretrial court session in which the plaintiff was to be quizzed by the judge. To his astonishment the court decided there were grounds for the lawsuit to proceed. He was now officially a defendant in a criminal case.
As a consequence, Manit was locked in a courthouse holding cell before his lawyers managed to raise bail and get him out.
The disability rights campaigner, who has been in a wheelchair since a motorcycle accident when he was 24, thought he had seen everything in his eight years of speaking out for accessibility rights.
“It was like a temporary imprisonment. I was locked up for a half a day. It’s where they held all the convicts, and I was locked up with them.”
An IT professional by occupation, Manit is well known to the Thai media and public as a longtime advocate for disability rights that are guaranteed by the Thai Constitution, but in reality, rarely taken seriously.
He highlights most of his disability complaints on a Facebook page called Accessibility is Freedom.
Manit’s next court appointment is set for May 30.
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