Legal observations on the arrest of two suspects in relation to the Bangkok blasts

On 1 and 2 August 2019, bomb attacks took place in at least seven spots including the Government Complex and several public places in Bangkok. On 2 August, two Malay Muslim men were taken into in custody in relation to the bombings, namely Mr. Look-ai Saengae, age 23, and Mr. Wildon Maha, age 29. They were apprehended in Chumphon province while they were on their way back to their hometown in Narathiwat province. Between 2 and 4 August 2019, their relatives and attorneys were not aware of their place of detention and were denied access to them. It was not until 5 August 2019 that their relatives were informed that they were being held in custody at the Peacekeeping Center, which is part of the Southern Border Provinces Police Operation Center Forward (SBPPOC) in Muang district of Yala province. They then went to visit Mr. Look-ai. Meanwhile, the Deputy Spokesperson of the Royal Thai Police announced that the arrest and custody of the two individuals was made possible under the invocation of the Emergency Decree on Government Administration in States of Emergency B.E. 2548 (2005), and they could be held in custody until 8 August 2019. 

In addition, during the deprivation of liberty of the two suspects, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) received further reports that individuals who claimed to be public officers apprehended Mr. Look-ai’s relative and held the person in custody for inquiry without disclosing the name of the person in their custody and the location where the person was being held. Given the reports, TLHR and the undersigned organizations would like to share the following observations regarding the invocation of legal power to apprehend and hold Mr. Look-ai Saengae and Mr. Wildon Maha in custody:  

1. The concealment of the fate of the suspects for the first three days 

For at least three days (2-4 August 2019), while Mr. Look-ai Saengae and Mr. Wildon Maha were held in custody, the arresting officers or other authorities did not inform their relatives or attorneys about either the reasons for the arrest or the power invoked to hold them in custody. Conflicting information has also been provided by relevant authorities about their whereabouts, which can be construed as an attempt to withhold information or conceal the fate of the persons being deprived of liberty. If the arrest had been carried out per Section 87 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the individuals could not have been held in custody longer than 48 hours since the time they were taken to the office of the inquiry officers. Plus, the arrestees would have had to have been informed of their right to contact their families or attorneys to tell them about the arrest.  

2. The power to hold a person in custody under the Emergency Decree

According to the statement of the Deputy Spokesperson of the Royal Thai Police to the press on 4 August 2019, the Emergency Decree on Government Administration in States of Emergency B.E. 2548 (2005) has been invoked to hold the two suspects in custody and they were then being held in custody at the Southern Border Provinces Police Operation Center Forward (SBPPOC) in Muang district of Yala province. Section 12 of the Emergency Decree authorizes a competent officer to hold a suspect in a place which is not an official detention center for up to seven (7) days with permission from the Court. The officer can also seek permission from the Court to renew the detention for another seven (7) days at a time, but altogether not more than thirty (30) days.  

Nonetheless, TLHR and the undersigned organizations note that the reason that triggered the arrest and taking into custody of the two individuals was related to bombing incidences in Bangkok, not any incidence in Yala province where the Emergency Situation has been declared. Moreover, the competent officers are allowed to hold a person under Emergency Decree only after the Emergency Situation has been declared by invoking Section 11 clause 2. Apprehending the two suspects in Chumphon province and then holding them in custody in Yala province, while claiming to have invoked the Emergency Decree, does not seem to serve the objectives of the Emergency Decree which should purportedly be imposed in specific areas, and such imposition is subject to review and renewal every three months.  

If the culpable offence took  place outside the area where the Emergency Situation is declared, but the officers have transported the suspects and held them in custody in the area under the Emergency Decree simply to extend their detention, this would constitute an abuse of power and  will inadvertently cause further ramifications to the justice process overall.  

3. Unlawful detention of persons related to the suspects 

A family member of Mr. Look-ai was apprehended on 4 August 2019 and taken from her office in Sukhumvit for an inquiry by a group of individuals who claimed to be public officers but refused to identify themselves or disclose their affiliations and without producing a summons or arrest warrant. The person detained was also compelled to sign a document in exchange for her release. Such detention was unlawful and has been carried out without any legal basis (for more information about the detention, please see Plainclothes Police Apprehending Aunt of Bomb Suspect Involved with Fake Bomb Incidence at Royal Thai Police

TLHR and the undersigned organizations are concerned about the violent attacks and how the authorities are working under pressure to bring the perpetrators to justice. Nonetheless, it is important that the perpetrators be brought to justice through lawful investigation in compliance with legal standards. Any spurious enforcement of the laws and the invocation of legal power without a legal basis will take a toll on people’s rights and freedoms and confidence in the justice process which will give rise to even more catastrophic consequences. TLHR urges the Royal Thai Police to address the questions raised here and take the following actions:  

An investigation must be conducted promptly to bring to justice the perpetrators involved with the bomb attacks in Bangkok while observing the procedures provided in the Criminal Procedure Code.

The suspects involved with bomb attacks in Bangkok should not be transported to and held in custody in Yala province invoking the Emergency Decree on Government Administration in States of Emergency. Instead, normal legal mechanisms should be used as a basis for the investigation and prosecution.  

An effort should be made to reveal the identity and affiliated agencies of the persons who claimed to be public officers and apprehended the relative of a suspect and held her in custody for inquiry without identifying themselves, without disclosing their affiliations, without disclosing the place of detention, and even forcing her to sign a memo made of the inquiry.  

With respect in people’s rights and freedoms
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)
Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA)
Union for Civil Liberty (UCL.)
Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF)
Muslim Attorney Centre (MAC)