Questions on the use of special laws to arrest 15 suspects accused of being members of organised crime group

On 19 August 2016, the military officials have brought 13 men and two women, 15 of them, to the Crime Suppression Division (CSD), the Royal Thai Police, to process the arrest memos and to have them hear the charges filed against them by the military. They are all accused of forming the Revolutionary Alliance for Democracy Party and their act is considered an offence concerning being members of a secret society or a criminal association and having a political gathering of five persons and upward without getting permission from the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The offence was alleged to have taken place from 19 December 2015 until June 2016.

Nevertheless, their arrests were carried out only after seven bombs attacks in Southern Thailand and the media were initially informed and spread the report that the suspects had been involved with the blasts. They have also been arrested from different areas of the country. As they live in far-flung places, far from Bangkok, it was not possible for them to communicate and let their relatives know about what happened during the entire custody from 13 to 14 August 2016. Relatives of several of them were unaware of the arrests, until it was reported in the press and their requests to visit them have been denied.

On 19 Aug, the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) has a short interview with 12 of the 15 suspects held in custody that they had been denied access to their relatives during the seven-day detention at the prison inside the 11th Military Circle. Several were aware that on 19 August, their relatives have tried to visit them, but were not allowed to do so. The suspects only met relatives for the first time when the suspects were brought to the Crime Suppression Division.

The charges are including being members of an organized crime group and having a political gathering of five persons and upward without getting permission from the Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the offence against the Penal Code’s Article 209 coupled with 83 and a violation of the Head of the NCPO Order no. 3/2558, they had all pleaded not guilty to the charges. Later, they were brought to the Military Court for a remand hearing, but the authority told them it was too late to apply for bail that day. As a result, all male suspects have been transferred to the Bangkok Remand Prison, while female to the Central Women Correctional Institution while the team of lawyers from the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) and the United Lawyers for Rights and Liberty has been providing them legal advice and other assistance including their relatives.

From our observation and conversation with the suspects, we have found nine suspects are aged from 61-70 years, five 50-60 years and only three younger than 50 years. At least three of them are suffering from Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia at least six having high blood pressure, while two having gout, one with diabetes and another with stroke. One women suspect is a Muslim and has asked for permission from the Corrections Department to wear her religious head scarf and to perform her religious practices.

The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) is gravely concerned about the use of special law by the military authorities, particularly for forcing civilians to be tried in the Military Court. The security forces claim to have invoked power per the Head of the NCPO no. 3/2558 dated 1 April 2015 to arrest the suspects who they believe had committed the offence. The authorities capitalized on the time when public attention has been geared toward the arrest of suspects involved with the bomb attacks in the South.

With unclear and confusing communication from security agencies, the public has been misled to believe that those who have been arrested hold difficult political views from the government and have been upset with the results of the Constitutional Referendum, and therefore have planted bombs in seven provinces in the South. Apart from being e heinous crime, the blasts have caused public commotion for public in general, not to mention the relatives of the 15 suspects. Later, high ranking officials from the Royal Thai Police have made it clear that all these suspects were not arrested because of their  role in bombing attacks.

The arrests of 15 suspects have been made possible invoking the special law by the military. It has cast some doubt over the operations of the security forces, particularly on; 

  1.  The authorities have placed the 15 suspects in custody preventing their relatives from visiting them, the act of which is a restriction of rights and liberties of the people and pertinently contrary to basic human rights principles. Have the arrests and detentions been made based on reasonable evidence and ground or not?
  2. Earlier, the military authorities spread news to the press to let people believe the group of suspects have been holding on to different political views from the government and involved with the bomb and arson attacks in seven Southern provinces. The accusations were made without any prior investigation and clear evidence corroboration. This is not only unfair and may cause damages to the 15 individuals, but it was simply an attempt to mislead the public and stir up confusion, fear and hatred toward the dissenters. Will It lead to a burgeoning political schism in the public and hamper the effort to restore reconciliation among people in the nation or not? 
  3.  The charge relating to being members of a secret society or a criminal association is a lame excuse to camouflage the practice of arrest first, investigate later by the authorities. There was not solid evidence pointing to their involvement with the bomb and arson attacks and the police have later come out to rule out their involvement with the sabotage.
  4. That the military has laid charge against them for organizing a political gathering was it an abuse of power by the military in order to force the individuals to stand trial in the Military Court or not? 
  5. Has the investigation of the bomb and arson attacks in seven Southern provinces by the military been professionally carried out or not, and should they leave it in the hand of the police who might have more expertise in criminal investigation or not? 

The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) urges the government to carry out a transparent investigation on the matter and to ensure fair treatment of the 15 suspects. Until now, the operations of the military authorities have been shrouded with flaws, a lack of professionalism with the intent to misuse power. We therefore call on the government to release all suspects and provide compensation to all of them as well as to bring to justice the officials who had abuse their power. 

 

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