Thai junta should end secret military detention

(New York, March 18, 2015) – The Thai military’s warrantless arrest and secret detention of a witness to alleged army crimes raise grave concerns of a politically motivated prosecution, Human Rights Watch said today. Holding the suspect incommunicado for six days heightened the risk of torture and other ill treatment.

On March 11, 2015, five soldiers took away Natthida Miwangpa, a volunteer nurse who witnessed the shooting of civilians by soldiers during 2010 political confrontations between the Abhisit Vejjajiva government and the “Red Shirts” supported by ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, from her home in Preksaksa district, Samut Prakarn province, near Bangkok. For six days the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta publicly denied any knowledge of her arrest or whereabouts, raising serious concerns for her safety. However, on March 17, the military handed her over to police at the Metropolitan Police Bureau, which charged her with committing terrorist acts and opposed her bail. Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha stated that Natthida is being investigated for alleged involvement in a grenade attack at the Bangkok Criminal Court on March 7, 2015. 

“Natthida Miwangpa’s arrest and secret detention by the Thai military should set off flashing red lights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Holding a witness to alleged military crimes incommunicado for six days is a profoundly disturbing abuse of authority that has become commonplace under martial law.”

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised serious concerns regarding secret military detention by the junta. Since the May 2014 coup, the NCPO junta – headed by General Prayuth – has detained hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists, and people they accuse of supporting the deposed government, disrespecting or offending the monarchy, or being involved in anti-coup protests and activities. The junta claims that arrest warrants are no longer necessary since the country is under martial law. 

Many of these people have been held incommunicado in unofficial places of detention, such as military camps. Military personnel have interrogated many of these detainees without providing access to their lawyers or other safeguards against mistreatment. The NCPO continually fails to provide information about people in secret detention.

The risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in unofficial military detention, Human Rights Watch said. Enforced disappearances are defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental human rights protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; and extrajudicial execution.

“The Thai junta’s use of secret military detention is a serious problem that could turn into a disaster when a detainee turns up dead someday,” Adams said. “The military needs to put an end to this practice immediately.”