BANGKOK — The junta has defended trialing civilians in military courts, saying it’s about maintaining peace and order.
A day after the leader of a popular political party was formally charged with sedition, Col. Winthai Suvari, spokesman for the National Council for Peace and Order, insisted on Sunday on the fairness of the junta’s order to try civilians charged with violating security laws in military courts.
“The justice system will decide. There’s room for all sides to defend themselves freely [in the military court],” Winthai said.
He added that a trial in military court would not be unique to Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who is now charged with sedition, violating the junta’s now-lifted ban on political gatherings of more than four people, and aiding fugitives.
Winthai’s statements came in response to concerns expressed by Thanathorn that he could be tried in a military court, since the charges relate to alleged actions dating back to 2015. The Future Forward Party leader took to Facebook to argue that many civilians have been unfairly tried in military courts for calling for freedom and democracy.
The junta abolished the use of military courts against civilians in 2016, but did not make the order retroactive. The trial of Thanathorn in a military court could revive the use of military courts against civilians who committed alleged crimes prior to 2016, warned the law-reform advocacy group iLaw on Sunday.
According to iLaw, at least 1,886 people have been tried in military courts since the May 2014 coup. At least 92 people have been charged with sedition while at least 1,138 have been summoned to report themselves to the National Council for Peace and Order. The four-year period since the coup has seen at least 162 people charged with lese-majeste.
Winthai added that accusations that Thanathorn has been unfairly charged are subjective “personal views”, on which society can exercise its good judgment.
The junta spokesman played down the stats, saying the number of individuals charged and tried in military tribunals is not high in proportion to the Thai population of 67 million people.