For immediate release on 16 March 2015
Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)
The Thai Military Junta must stop trial civilians in Military Court
On 13 March 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council was informed that Thailand currently adjudicating cases against civilians in military court. The civilians are being indicted with the military court simply because they have exercised the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The number of such cases has steadily shot up. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), there are at least 202 civilians being indicted with the military court in Thailand since last May.
This is the first time in 40 years that Thailand has chosen to try its civilians in the military court simply to stifle their dissenting voice and their fundamental right to freedom of expression.
In the response to an NGO statement at the UN Human Rights Council during its 28th Session from 2-27 March 2015 in Geneva, the Delegation of Thailand has exercised the right to reply in which it states that “On the use of the military court, only a limited number of cases of those who are accused of committing serious offences are submitted to the military court. These offences include those relating to possession of weapons and firearms, and murder. Defendants before the military court are entitled to the same set of rights accorded to those who appear before an ordinary court. This includes the right to legal counsel and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
This was in fact a misstatement as far as the use of military court in Thailand is concerned. Since the May 2014 military coup, a number of activists have been arrested and charged simply for acting symbolically, i.e. holding banners, campaigning for election, eating sandwiches, flashing three fingers, etc. For example, on 14 February 2015, a human rights lawyer and three other activists were arrested and charged for violating the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Announcement no. 7 /2557 which bans political gathering of five persons and upwards. On 16 March 2015, the four alleged offenders are being brought to file custody at the military court and it is likely that they would be denied bail.
The harnessing of justice process and military justice to suppress the expression of opinions is a grave form of human rights violation and has continued incessantly. The military justice has been used by the military junta simply to avoid being discredited for not acting extra-judicially. But the military tribunal used for trying the civilians does not show any independence and impartiality as well as is not warranted for. Such use of military court indicates a clear purpose to suppress political activists including human rights lawyers. The procedure of the military court guarantees no right to fair trial for a civilian. This is definitely in breach of the international obligations to which Thailand are obliged to follow including those enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Individual from the Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) are in geneva at the 28th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva from 16-18 March 2015. We demand that the Royal Thai Government and the NCPO revoke the NCPO Announcements no. 37/2557 and 38/2557 which expand jurisdiction of the military court over the trial of civilians on certain offences. Any orders and announcements which have been issued to stifle the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly must be immediately rescinded. In addition, the single-tiered military court used for trying civilians during the time Martial Law is imposed makes an appeal impossible. We believe that the normal Court of Justice is capable of handling cases and we believe such a court shall ensure the right to a fair trial rather than the military court.
For more information, please contact Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF), +66-86-7093000
Yaowalak Anuphan, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) + 66-81-6283402