Thai military court amendment approved despite criticism

Thai military court amendment approved despite criticism
Thai security personnel.

The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) approved the proposed amendment to the 1955 Military Affairs Act despite concerns by critics both at home and abroad that the amendment could lead to the detention of civilians by military commanders.

The National Human Rights Commission had said it would submit a letter requesting that the Cabinet ensure a written instruction, or an addition, was made to the amendment to make it explicit that civilians would not be affected.

NHRC member Niran Pitakwatchara said the decision to submit the letter was made after a representative from the Defence Ministry's legal division insisted it was up to the NLA, or another responsible body, to decide whether to implement an amendment that would give the military the power to detain military personnel if a military court were not accessible or the court could not issue a detention order in time.

Sceptics, including the NHRC, wanted the law to clearly state that such power would not be extended to civilians and would be enforced by military officers only.

They claim the spate of arrests and detentions under the martial law imposed since the coup could be exacerbated under the proposed amendment to Article 46, which allows for "suspects", who could liberally be interpreted as civilians as well, to be detained without recourse to justice for 84 days as opposed to the current seven days under martial law.

A Defence Ministry spokesman tried to allay those concerns.

"Article 46 will definitely not lead to the detention of civilians," said Colonel Supachai Indaruna, director of the Military Legislation and Foreign Affairs Division of the Judge Advocate General's Department of the Defence Ministry.

He was speaking at a meeting with the NHRC yesterday at the Rights Commission Office.

The amended Article 46 states that, "In case of emergency or needed circumstances, the article allows military commanders to detain military personnel for up to 84 days."

Supachai said now that the proposed amendment has been approved by the NLA, military commanders will be instructed to detain military personnel only.

He gave the example of Thai Navy commanders fighting pirates off Somalia who may need to quickly detain a sailor as the rationale behind the proposed amendment.

He said the proposal was different to the seven-day detention without charge imposed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) since the coup.

"Those [civilians] detained under martial law are people who may be dangerous or possess an attitude that is not beneficial to the nation," he said.

"We invite them to report themselves [to the NCPO] and detain them for no more than seven days. Once the attitude adjustment is done we will let them go so they can carry on with their duties.

"This is different from detaining [criminal suspects] because these detainees are not suspects. Suspects are those who are accused of or commit a criminal offence and we must separate the two groups."

Not satisfied with the explanation, Somchai Homlaor, deputy chairman of the NHRC subcommittee on citizens and political rights, pointed out that, under martial law, some civilians accused of violating the lese majeste law or opposing the coup had been arrested and detained by military officers.

Somchai said it was this abuse of martial law that led to concerns that the amended Act would further affect civil rights of civilians. These suspects, he said, should have been handled by police.

"The detention of [criminal] suspects for seven days under martial law led to the confusion," he said, adding that people were concerned the amendment would be abused, just as martial law was being abused, unless it was explicitly written that the power was for the detention of military personnel only.

Supachai replied by saying that if something explicit were to be added, it would be up to the NLA.

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