Judicial intimidation and repression

6 12 2020

We have known for some time that the loyalist Constitutional Court brooks no criticism. However, its recent political decision allowing Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s free gifts from the Royal Thai Army, despite the words against this in the constitution, means the court and the regime are going to be busy dousing the critical commentary of the kangaroo court.

A story at Thai Enquirer is worth considering. It points out that, after the court’s decision, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, a secretary to the Office of the Prime Minister, warned protesters associated with the new People’s Party and the Move Forward Party “to not create trouble and respect the high court’s decision.” In addition, the Constitutional Court “issued a statement urging people to avoid criticism that could lead to prosecution…”. It stated that “a person shall enjoy the liberty to express opinions, but criticism of rulings made with vulgar, sarcastic or threatening words will be considered a violation of the law.”

It is difficult not to be sarcastic when characterizing the decisions made by this cabal of politicized regime crawlers and fawners.

The story observes that the “impermissibility of judicial criticism … is a growing concern and has been on the rise since the May 2014 coup d’etat…”. It notes that “[t]hreats to critics have become commonplace.”

Recent high-profile cases include “two academics were summoned by the Court for making comments critical of court decisions.”

Sarinee Achavanuntakul, an academic wrote an opinion piece in Krungthep Turakit arguing that judges were “careless” in their interpretation of election law after disqualifying a Future Forward Party candidate from running in the March 2019 election. Kovit Wongsurawat, a lecturer at Kasetsart University, also received a letter from the Court over an “inappropriate” tweet.

This trend is described as “alarming,” and makes the case that charges of contempt of court are “used in the same fashion as other draconian and authoritarian laws such as lese majeste and the Computer Crime Act to curb dissent.”

The use of courts for political repression is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.

In the case of the Constitutional Court, its powers are more or less unbounded; it has the power to issue summons to anyone without due process. Guilt is determined on the spot.” The story adds that “[u]nder Section 38 of the Organic Act on Procedures of the Constitutional Court, judges have the power to limit criticism–and have the authority to remand the accused to as much as a month in prison.”

Described as “a thuggish attempt to call dissenters before the Court,” this power to repress is likened to the junta’s  “attitude adjustment sessions.”

It concludes that “[t]ogether, the Court and the regime are demanding no less than silence before, during and after a case appears before it.”

By seeking to intimidate, the article suggests that the Constitutional Court “risks the further erosion of public legitimacy, as their actions chip away at what remains of democratic mechanisms in Thailand,” adding that this “growing intolerance of judicial criticism is another painful reminder of how far Thailand has fallen and that this behavior by the Court has become normalized.”


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