One of the reasons that lese majeste sentences have been so harsh under the military dictatorship has been due to the use of military courts. While civilian courts have not been models of judicial integrity on lese majeste cases, the military courts have tended to hear cases in camera, allow no appeal, have further broadened the “interpretation” of the law and deliver exceptionally harsh sentences.
Some time ago, PPT posted on a challenge to the military court’s jurisdiction in one case that involves Rung Sila or Sirapop (family withheld). Rung Sila is the pen-name of a poet and cyber activist. He and his lawyer submitted a request to the criminal court under Article 10 of the 1999 Court Jurisdiction Act for a ruling on whether he should be tried by a civilian rather than a military court. On 22 September 2015, the Criminal Court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the case. The military court had earlier ruled that it had jurisdiction of the case. The appeal argued that the alleged offense occurred prior to the 2014 military coup. A Court Jurisdiction Committee (CJC) had to make a decision.
Prachatai reports that that Committee has now made its decision and has ruled that the military court has jurisdiction over the case.
On 20 January 2016, the Military Court of Bangkok read the CJC’s decision. The decision was based on a view that the “online contents allegedly defaming the … monarchy which Sirapop posted still existed online after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the coup-maker, issued announcements No. 37/2014 and 38/2014 on 25 May 2014 to transfer the jurisdiction over lèse majesté and other national security related cases to the military courts.”
The report states that this content remained online until 30 June 2014 and thus Rung Sila’s trial “will continue to go on … in the military court which allows no appeal and usually give harsher sentences on lèse majesté cases in comparison to civilian courts.” In essence, the CJC agreed with the military court’s reasoning on its jurisdiction over the case.
Prachatai observes that the “defendant, who is the father of three with his youngest child still in high school, could face up to 45 years imprisonment if he is found guilty.”
Under a military regime, the military will always trump things civilian.