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Amnesty International urges Thai junta to revoke, not enhance army’s powers to detain civilians

7 February 2015 -- Thai authorities must immediately cancel plans to grant the military enhanced powers to detain civilians for several months without charge or trial, Amnesty International said today.
 
The National Legislative Assembly, a body appointed by the military which seized power in a coup in May 2014, will later this month consider an amendment to the Statute of the Military Court Act, which would grant military commanders powers to detain civilians for up to 84 days.
 
“It is deeply worrying that the Thai military authorities are trying to give themselves even more power to violate the human rights treaties by which the country is bound. This proposed amendment will consolidate in law arbitrary detention ordered by a military officer instead of a judge, and should be withdrawn immediately,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
 
The amendment provides that in circumstances of “force beyond human control or other necessity”, high-ranking military commanders may order the detention of suspects, including civilians processed under the Criminal Procedure Code – powers previously granted only to civilian courts. 
 
Since the coup, the military has granted itself the power to arrest civilians without charge or trial for up to seven days and try them in military courts without the right to appeal. Coupled with the powers in the proposed amendment to the Statute of the Military Court Act, they will be able to detain civilians for up to 84 days. 
 
Hundreds of individuals have been arbitrarily detained under martial law powers and scores of civilians have been tried in military courts since the coup, in violation of international law.
 
“Thailand is sliding down a slippery slope of repression of  in the name of security. The military has already violated the country’s international human rights obligations and as this proposed amendment shows it appears to have no intention of reversing this trend, In fact, this makes a mockery of the claim that oppressive measures since the coup were temporary – the military is actually granting itself broader, and permanent powers to abuse,” said Rupert Abbott.
 
“This trend has to end immediately. Instead of enhancing the powers of military courts, authorities should repeal any powers military commanders and courts have over criminal procedures against civilians, restore constitutional human rights protections and honour Thailand’s international human rights obligations.”
 
As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Thailand is legally prohibited from arbitrarily depriving persons of their liberty. Detaining a person for almost three months by executive order clearly violates this right. In addition, UN human rights experts have long established the principle that military court must not try civilians.