Abolish trials of civilians by military courts

20 09 2016

The Asian Human Rights Commission has released a statement on the ongoing use of military courts by the military junta for its political opponents. While there are no new cases going to the military courts, hundreds of cases will still have to wend their way through the military courts:

19 September, 2016

THAILAND: Abolish all trials of civilians in military courts

On 12 September 2016, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) issued the NCPO Order No. 55/2016under Article 44 of the Interim Constitution; it states that all cases involving offences of the Announcement of the NCPO Order No. 37/2557 (2014), No. 38/2557 (2014), and No. 50/2557 (2014), will no longer be tried in Military courts.

However, this order does not cover cases initiated before the order was issued. In addition, it also fails to cover cases under Article 12 of the NCPO Order No. 3/2015, the junta’s public gathering ban, and the NCPO Order No. 13/2016, which gives Military officers extra-judicial power. Therefore, crimes involving these laws still have to be tried in Military courts.

Since the 2014 coup d’état, both local and international human rights organisations have condemned the Thai Military government; the NCPO, the junta’s ruling body, has since resorted to Military courts to silence all forms of opposition. Under Announcement No.37/2557 (2014), the NCPO made clear its intention to establish Military courts to process people accused of certain categories of offences. In particular, it listed offences of lèse majesté, offences concerning internal security, and any offences deemed to be contrary to the orders of the NCPO. In Announcement 38/2557 (2014), it added that persons brought before Military courts with cases pending against them from the ordinary criminal courts could have those cases dealt with simultaneously. (See AHRC-OLT-006-2014)

The NCPO Order No. 55/2016states that

“…Presently, it appears that the overall situation in the country during these past two years has become, step-by-step, better. The population has expressed their intention and provided good cooperation, which led to the country’s sustainable development; the proper reform of the country; and unity and reconciliation building conducted in a right and fair manner….”

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) would like to point out the manifest inaccuracy of this statement. What needs to be placed in context is the fact that from May 2014 until the end of May 2016, at least 1,811 civilians have been tried in Military courts in 1,546 cases.

According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), there are 517 pending cases in Military courts and 1,029 have reached their final verdicts. Of these, 44 cases are concerned with the violation of NCPO Orders and Announcements (such as failures to report to NCPO summons and the ban on political gathering). There are 63 cases prosecuted for defamation of the monarchy, or lèse majesté, under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, and five cases of sedition-like offences under Section 116 of the Criminal Code.

In addition, the AHRC is deeply concerned that the NCPO Order No. 55/2016 is not a permanent order that aims to revoke the prosecution of civilians in Military court or one that will restore civilian judiciary. As a matter of fact, what Thailand requires is the annulment of the military rule in the country and the restoration of its civilian government. Orders like the one issued could only be viewed as the junta justifying the excesses committed so far and its justification of the promulgation of a constitution, that neither had popular support nor was drafted with the free and informed will of the people of Thailand.

As a result, there is little reason for human rights organisations to change their demand: revoke the announcement of the NCPO that place civilians in military courts, and return them to be tried in ordinary courts. In conclusion, at least 517 cases in Military courts still await being tried, something that is not in accordance with Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.(See ALRC-CWS-32-011-2016)

The NCPO Order No. 55/2016 also reiterates that officers under the NCPO Order No. 3/2558 (2015) and NCPO Order No. 13/2559 (2016) shall continue to have power and responsibility specified in these Orders.

Therefore, without permission having been granted by the Head of the NCPO or an authorized representative under Article 12 of the NCPO Order No. 3/2558 (2015), the political gatherings of five or more persons shall still be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding ten thousand Baht, or both.

Also, the NCPO Order No. 13/2559 (2016) permits the boundless exercise of power and also inserts military officials as “Prevention and Suppression Officers” into the judicial process and provides them with the authority to carryout investigations along with the police. In addition, the Order gives authority to military officials to detain individuals for up to seven days. During this seven-day detention period, detainees do not have the right to meet a lawyer or contact their relatives, and the Military officials further refuse to make the locations of places of detention public.

In the past two years since the coup, it is clear that Military courts do not accord same rights as Thailand’s civilian courts do. They also violate internationally protected fair trial rights.

The AHRC still calls for the NCPO to revoke Article 44 of the Interim Constitution, as well as all NCPO orders and announcements that place civilians in Military courts. The AHRC calls for returning citizens to be tried in ordinary courts and for ending all forms of violations and harassment of ordinary people.



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