Bangkok disability activist faces jail over handicapped parking space

Manit Intharapim of Accessibility is Freedom appears Monday at Bangkok’s Criminal Court. Photo: Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts
Manit Intharapim of Accessibility is Freedom appears Monday at Bangkok’s Criminal Court. Photo: Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts

A prominent disability rights activist was in court Monday afternoon to find out if he would be convicted of defamation for calling someone out for parking in a space reserved for the disabled.

Manit Intharapim, 54, was at Bangkok’s Criminal Court to hear the outcome of a case that began almost two years ago after he posted about someone parking in a reserved spot. He told Coconuts this afternoon that it was more than him on trial.

“I fought this case not just because it is personal, but it’s for every disabled person,” said Manit, who has been fighting for disability rights over three decades with his group Accessibility is Freedom

The criminal complaint against Manit was filed by a man identified in court only as Ittipol, 42. Back in August 2020, Manit posted a photo of a Toyota Hilux Revo Prerunner truck he said was parked illegally in the lot of Tesco Lotus Chaeng Wattana. “This car’s driver violates disabled people’s rights and parked illegally,” Manit wrote on Accessibility is Freedom. He also left his phone number and asked for the driver to contact him.

While Manit didn’t name – or even know – the driver’s identity at the time, he did not blur the car’s license plate. That led Ittipol to file the complaint against Manit. In his defense, he told the police that he was driving for his father, who he said was partially paralyzed. 

In court today, Ittipol said he filed the lawsuit because Manit’s post on social media attracted comments that “humiliated” and “denigrated” him.

He admitted that his father, who arrived at today’s hearing in a wheelchair, had only needed a walking stick that day. Pressed by the defense, Ittipol also told the courtroom he did not have a sticker for disabled parking. 

The court was adjourned late Monday afternoon without completing the trial. It will resume in April.

It’s common to see people abuse parking spaces reserved for the handicapped and elderly – and nothing done about it. Although regulations require that premises reserve one such spot per 25 parking spaces, there’s no penalty for those who misuse them.

In lieu of enforcement, Manit has set out to use the only tool available – public shame. 

Over the years, he has publicized many such incidents online. That made a defamation complaint almost inevitable. A criminal offense, defamation convictions can be punished by upward of two years in jail and a fine of THB20,000. Telling the truth is not a defense.

Manit was previously involved in litigation that led to a landmark 2015 ruling that all BTS stations be made wheelchair-accessible by adding lifts, though City Hall dragged its feet for years on completing the work.

Although he’s pushed for laws that improve equal accessibility, Manit says they are ineffective without enforcement.

“Our system could be way, way better, so that two people do not have to conflict with each other like this,” Manit said prior to the ruling. “The government has to work more intensely and enforce things strictly, too. We need a proper agency responsible for monitoring, prosecuting, and ensuring disability rights in parking.”

Related
Dear cop who brazenly parked in handicapped space, we hope it was worth it
Disabled activist confronts woman using handicapped parking (Video)
Man confronts mall’s ‘VIP’ misuse of disabled parking (Video)
Just a bunch of luxury cars in Suvarnabhumi disabled parking spaces (Photos)

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