Military court stands firm over its jurisdiction over civilians

Bangkok’s Military Court dismissed a petition questioning its jurisdiction, submitted by Worachet Pakeerut, a prominent law academic and core member of the Nitirat group, who was charged with failing to report to the junta.    

According to Free Thai Legal Aid (FTLA), the Military Court of Bangkok on Monday morning rejected the petition submitted by Worachet.

Nitirat is a progressive law academic group based in the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, Bangkok. The group has been well known for its courageous stand on the campaign to amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code, known as the lèse majesté law.  

The petition was submitted to the military court in order to allow the Constitutional Court to interpret whether the junta’s Announcements No. 37/2014 and 38/2014 on the jurisdiction of the military courts violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, the military court simply dismissed the request.

The court cited its power to rule over the case in accordance with the announcement of the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the Interim Charter written by the coup-makers, and said that its ruling does not violate the ICCPR because the Interim Charter also gives civil and political rights in parallel with the ICCPR.     

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, another key member of the Nitirat group, posted on his Facebook page that the ruling of the military court breached the principles of the ICCPR which Thailand has an obligation to adhere to as a state party.   

Article 14/1 of the ICCPR states “all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any charge against him, or his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

Worachet Pakeerut (third from left) with his lawyer Winyat Chatmontri (second from left) from FTLA, talking to the press in front the military court on 26 January 2015     

Moreover, Article 14/5 adds “Everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction or sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law”.

Sam Zarifi, Asia and Oceania Regional Director of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), earlier told Prachatai in an interview “The military courts really are designed to handle cases of military personnel. International law really does not approve of civilians being tried by military tribunals. The reason for that is simple, because the military tribunal does not always provide the dual process and protection that international law demands.”  

This is the second petition dismissed by the military court that questioned its jurisdiction to try civilians.

Earlier on Friday, the military court dismissed the same petition submitted by Sombat Boonngam-anong (aka nuling), an anti-coup red-shirt activist accused of the same charge.

Worachet was arrested in late June after he flew back to Thailand from Hong Kong and was detained at the Crime Suppression Division and Bangkok Remand Prison for interrogation for two days.

He was summoned twice on May 24 and June 9. On June 10, however, he failed to report to the junta citing health problems. Patcharin Pakeerut, Worachet’s wife, submitted a letter to the military prior to his arrest, saying that Worachet did not intend to flee, and would delay reporting due to his health problems.

The military court has scheduled the witness hearing on 26 May 2015.