By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer
BANGKOK — Over 1,400 civilians were tried in military court last year, in what Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group (TLHR) called a “camouflaged justice process”, in a newly-released report highlighting 10 legal cases from 2015.
Alleged torture and severe sentences under the lese majeste law, as well as liberal use of sedition charge were mentioned in the report.
The group said the process is as follows: “It starts from military personnel reporting the case to the police. The military then accuse a person of committing the crime. They carry out the arrest, participate in the interrogation, prosecuting the case by the Judge Advocate and adjudicating the case by military judges in military court, as well as detaining the individuals in military barracks. The control of all procedures is basically subjected to the power of the military.”
Among the unusual cases showing the arbitrary nature of the process, in the report TLHR notes the late night remand hearing of the 14 anti-coup activists who are members of the New Democracy Movement, wherein the military court was open at 10pm on June 26 last year.
“The whole process for the remand hearing finished at 00.30am. It was the latest [time wise] remand hearing that has ever taken place [to the best of our knowledge],” the group reports, adding, “It reflects just how independent and impartial the Military Court really was.”
An illustration of the late night trial of 14 members of the New Democracy Movement, June 26, 2015. Picture: Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group.
In another aspect highlighted by TLHR, the report notes that there have been at least four defendants who made torture allegations against their interrogators.
Wichai Yusuk, one of the four, claimed that he and others were “mistreated”. This allegedly included being “hit, punched, booted in their heads, chests and backs and threatened with assault in order to extract information…”
What’s more, the lawyers group noted, “some suspects were allegedly subjected to electrocution leaving visible traces on their skin.”
Another suspect in the case, Sansern Sriounruen – who was additionally accused of setting off an explosive device in front of the Criminal Court, on Ratchadapisek Road – claimed he was subjected to electric shock on his right thigh 30 to 40 times as he and others were held in custody under martial law, leaving visible marks on his body.
In this case, the lawyers noted that the Metropolitan Police Bureau later responded to the complaint by saying that some of the injuries sustained by Sansern were a result of “his falling onto a blunt object and it was not possible to determine the exact cause of the wound.”
Liberal Use Of Sedition Charge
The group also noted that the security law has been applied against some who criticize junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his family. Rinda Paruechabutr was arrested and accused of violating Article 116 of the Penal Code, which deals with seditious acts, for making a Facebook posting accusing Prayuth’s wife of transferring a large sum of money abroad. Although she was unable to prove her accusation, Rinda insisted that it was her right to criticize Prayuth and his family.
On Dec. 21, the Bangkok Military Court ruled to disqualify the sedition case against Rinda under Article 116, adding however that it could be prosecuted as a libel case.
“[Thai Lawyers for Human Rights] has found that the sedition offence under Article 116 has been used as a political tool. Normally, any person committing any possible libelous acts against the powers that be or [the junta] should be charged with violation of libel or defamation offences.”
Record Breaking Lese Majeste Sentences
In yet another highlighted case, the group noted that a record-breaking lese majeste sentence of 60 years in prison was handed out by the military court on Aug. 7 last year against a man by the name of Pongsak, whose family name was withheld in the report.
Pongsak was found guilty of violating the lese majeste law for six different posts on his Facebook page (which he operated under an alias).
“He was sentenced to sixty years for the six posts, or ten years per post. It was reduced by half, to thirty years due to his guilty plea.”
The group noted that this and other cases show how “severe penalties have been handed down by the military court against lese majeste offenders.
“Previously in the Military Court, the penalty was five years per count. But in these cases, the Military Court has increased it to 8-10 years per count."
Pravit Rojanaphruk can be followed on Twitter at @PravitR
CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly identified all 14 members of the New Democracy Movement who were arrested in June 2014 as students. In fact, not all of them were students.
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