Junta representatives to UPR lie about military courts: Human rights lawyers

After the Thai representatives to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) told other nations that Thai military courts only handle serious crimes involving civilians, Thai human rights lawyers have come up with some facts to counter the lies about the military courts.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) on Thursday, 12 May 2016, published a list of some of the facts about the military courts which contradict the statement by Thai junta’s representative in response to inquiries from other UN member states at the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session held in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday.

Some of the facts from the TLHR about the military courts are listed below:     

- Many cases handled by the military courts are not serious crimes, but political crimes with charges against political dissidents, such as not reporting to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), joining gatherings against the coup-makers, investigating corruption allegations against the Rajabhakti Park built by Thai Army and posting a Facebook picture of a red bowl with the signature of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister, on it.

- Many cases related to possessing or carrying unauthorised weapons are not serious crimes, but are filed against villagers and ethnic minorities who possess cap guns or antique guns without licenses, which are normally used for hunting.

- The military courts lack independence because they are under the Ministry of Defence and Defence Minister and high ranking military officers can appoint judges to the military courts; this is unlike the civilian courts.

- Personnel of the military courts are not legal experts. Apart from staff of the military’s Judge Advocate General’s Department who are commissioned military officers with law degrees, other members of the bench of the military courts are only commissioned military officers appointed to the court without proper legal training.

- With very limited legal staff and the fact that the military courts usually hold witness examination hearings once every 2-3 months, military court trials are usually very lengthy, which induces many suspects to plead guilty in order to put an end to the trials.

- On average, penalties handed out by the military courts are more severe than by civilian courts. For example, the military courts have regularly sentenced suspects of offences under Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the lѐse majesté law, to between 8 and 10 years’ imprisonment per count, whereas the average sentence given by civilian courts for similar offences is about 5 years per count.

- Before the revocation of Martial Law announced after the 2014 coup d’état, the military courts did not allow convicts to appeal the rulings. Therefore, suspects in cases which were indicted by the military prosecutor between 25 May 2014 and 1 April 2015, are not allowed to appeal military court rulings.

- Unlike the civilian courts, the military courts do not provide lawyers for suspects.

- Many trials in military courts are held in camera, especially trials for lѐse majesté suspects. The staff of the military courts usually prevent delegates from foreign embassies, activists and the families of suspects from entering the courtroom to observe the trial, citing security and the fact that the military courts are held on military premises.

- The military courts only accept cash as bail surety, unlike the civilian courts. Also, in the military courts, there are no standard criteria on the amount of bail for categories of cases in accordance to the nature of crimes.           

Just before the end of 2015, TLHR published a report on the number of civilian cases that had been handled by military courts since the May 2014 coup. This report was based on data provided by the military’s Judge Advocate General’s Department, which took almost two months to respond to TLHR’s request for information.   

The data shows startling trends. During the 16-month period ending 30 September 2015, Thailand’s military courts handled a total of 1,408 cases involving 1,629 civilian defendants. With a total of 208 civilians on trial, the Bangkok Military Court had the highest number of civilian cases in the system.  The military courts in Khon Kaen and Lampang provinces came in second with each trying 158 civilians. Songkhla Military Court came in the third place with 115 civilians on trial.