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The peace of Thailand, which passeth all misunderstanding

You see, we need martial law so that we can enjoy the calm and order that has been achieved since the coup.  (Well, as long as we ignore the south, but then everybody always ignores the south.)  If we didn’t have martial law, who knows what mayhem and anarchy would result.

And when the odd bit of mayhem and anarchy does occur, then we need martial law to put an end to the very thing that martial law was supposed to prevent.

So we need martial law, whatever happens.  Or doesn’t happen.  And it is very frustrating when wilfully ignorant foreigners fail to understand this and make persistent calls for the government to revoke martial law, which only gives our Dear Leader a thumping headache.

And another thing that the non-Thai mind can’t seem to understand is what they call arbitrary detention under martial law.  It’s not, really.  That would be a violation of human rights and under the interim constitution, Thailand will observe all the international human rights agreements that it has signed. 

So violations of human rights would be unconstitutional, so there can be no violations of human rights in Thailand, so what the military does can’t be a violation of human rights.  Surely even the densest of foreigners can understand that.

In fact Army spokesperson Col Winthai Suvaree doesn’t like people even using the word ‘detention’ (which is a bit odd since that’s exactly the word used in Section 15 (bis) of the Martial Law Act of 1914 which authorizes what the military are doing).  Col Winthai prefers to talk of ‘invitations’ to accommodation more like a country club. 

These are invitations that you can refuse only on pain of a prison term, and not many country clubs sit you down and try to change your attitudes for you.  But it’s nothing like the detention of criminal prisoners, he says, and he does have a point.

For example, if you’re a common criminal, you would be detained in a registered place of detention, not some random military guesthouse, barracks, shed or hole in the ground.  And you would know where you are, since they only shackle prisoners when taking them to and fro; they don’t blindfold or hood them for the duration of the journey into incarceration.ห

Criminal prisoners also have the right to visits from family, friends and lawyers.  Military non-detainees escape all this palaver by being held incommunicado, which, as one of their ‘invitees’ said (before she scarpered telling tall tales of torture and other ill-treatment), does their meditation practice no end of good.

Then again, ordinary criminals will have been informed of the charges against them and, after 48 hours max, their detention will have been approved by an independent judiciary.  They also, at least theoretically, have the opportunity of organizing a defence against these charges.  Those enjoying an enforced absence from normal life under martial law face no charges; so clearly all this legalistic to-do becomes totally irrelevant.

And when criminal prisoners have done their time, that’s it.  They’ve paid their debt to society and can freely walk away (though tainted with a certain degree of social and legal stigma).  Those who are invited by the military to 7 days’ non-detention are only let go if they sign a document that removes certain of their rights as citizens.  But this is, of course, done quite voluntarily.  Just as blackmail victims quite voluntarily part with large sums of cash.

Another simple fact that seems to escape these legal ignoramuses from organizations like the International Council of Jurists, or the UN High Commission for Human Rights, or any of these so-called human rights organizations concerns military courts.  It is wrong, they say, to try civilians on criminal charges in military courts.

The first thing they object to is that the military justice system has no appeal mechanism.  The verdict of the court is both first and final decision. 

But what’s wrong with that?  Criminal trials, presided over by judges that had to be qualified lawyers before they passed the judging exam, can understandably make mistakes and the 3-level appeals process is designed to rectify these.  But military judges, who may have received no comparable legal training, simply do not make such mistakes.

And since there is no right of appeal in the military courts, there is no need to go to the trouble and expense of providing transcripts of proceedings.  Nor is it necessary for the accused to be given prior warning of what evidence the prosecution will bring to court so that their defence lawyers can prepare a proper defence.  If the accused were not guilty, after all, why would they be put on trial to prove their innocence?

Now these woolly-minded critics are objecting to an extension of the 7 days’ no-charge, no-communication-with-the-outside-world non-detention to 84 days.  Col Winthai has again had to explain that this will only happen when absolutely necessary, such as when military commanders are too busy dealing with armed clashes in border areas to get to a military court.

Why shouldn’t we believe this?  It is reminiscent of what is already in the Martial Law Act, which says that martial law can only be declared ‘if there is war or insurrection’.  And we all know how true that is.


About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).