Thailand’s latest coup was meant to end conflict and build reconciliation. With no chance of justice for one side of politics, nothing could be further from the truth.
According to a report by Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw), a NGO that has been recording lawsuits relating to freedom and human rights in Thailand since the coup of 22 May 2014, at least 751 people have been called to report to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). In addition, some 428 people have been arrested, 163 people have been prosecuted for political reasons, and 124 people have been prosecuted by the military court.
There are at least 68 people currently detained by the NCPO, among them 34 charged with offending the Thai monarchy (Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, or the Lèse-majesté law). Another 34 have been charged for committing crimes involving weapons and violence.
None of these figures include the number of lawsuits relating to Article 112 leveled against those who are accused of using the name of monarchy for their own benefit.
Among those who were prosecuted by the NCPO, the case of Tiensutham, against whom the military court issued a verdict on 31 March, represents one of most severe penalties we have recently seen. Tiensutham has been sentenced to 50 years in jail for posting five Facebook statuses deemed by the Military Court as insulting the monarchy. He pleaded guilty, so the sentence was reduced by half, to 25 years in jail.
However, the draconian penalty on Tiensutham is not the highest on record. The Military Court’s verdicts on Sasiwimon and Sam Parr on 7 August were in response to Facebook posts as well. Sasiwimon got 56 years in jail, 28 years after pleading guilty, because she posted seven messages on Facebook. Sam Parr got 60 years, 30 years after pleading guilty, for six posts.
A female journalist from Prachatai who is following the cases said:
The penalty imposed was twice as harsh as by before the [22 May 2014] coup. The military court gave 10 years per act, while the civil court gave six years per act at a maximum.
After the case of Amphon Tangnophakhun, who was jailed under Article 112 in 2011 because he was accused of sending SMS messages deemed to defame the Thai royal family and who later died in jail, the maximum penalty regarding Article 112 was reduced to five years per act.
The journalist went on to note that under the Military Court, currently if a suspect is a political activist [ie a Red Shirt supporter] the penalty could be 10 years per act. But if the suspect is not a political activist, the penalty might me less harsh. Unlike the Civil Court, the Military Court also has a very ambiguous range of consideration for what a penalty should be, without any general guidelines.
Yaowaluck Anuphan, chief of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, established after last year’s coup to help those who were affected by human rights violations, has also given critical comment on the current situation. She said:
The junta gave a threatening message that the penalty for cases relating to Article 112 would be harsh. So we can see that the penalty could be as high as 10 years per act, even though the defendant has pleaded guilty.
According to the Thai Criminal Code, the penalty for cases relating to Article 112 are between three and 15 years. For the Civil Court, the penalty varies, but the more common punishment is five years per act, and could be reduced by half if the defendant pleads guilty. But the military’s conviction is 10 years in jail per act, and five years if the defendant pleads guilty. Anyone who insists on fighting the case, the military has threatened, will get 15 years. They claimed that they have to protect the monarchy.
Beside harsher punishments, there have been a number of political prisoners who have died in prison under suspicious circumstances, leading to allegations that they were beaten to death. Such was the case of Mr Surakrit Chaimongkol, 36, who died on 28 August 2014.
Surakrit was accused of killing a vocal member of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which led mobs to disrupt the 2 February 2014 general election. He was arrested on 8 July and jailed not long after the coup.
Surakrit died shortly after being moved to Section Four of the prison. His mother met him for the last time during a visit on 21 August. Surakrit told his mother that he was beaten up in a secret prison, and he feared that he would not survive. Every time he was beaten, he heard that all the Red Shirt supporters would be killed.
“My son didn’t do it. How could he confess? We only have to wait until the truth is revealed,” Surakrit’s mother told Prachatai.
Torture to obtain confession was revealed to the public for the first time in the case of Sansern Sriunruean, 63, on 18 March 2015. Prachatai identified images of bruises and scars from electric shocks applied to his body. On the same day, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights issued a statement calling the military to stop using martial law to arrest people, and the officers responsible for torturing must be punished.
The organisation has also revealed that it received four complaints from those accused of detonating bombs in front of the criminal court building on 7 March 2015. The accused claimed that they were punched and hit in the head, chest, and back in order to obtain information. All of this happened when the accused were detained during a period of martial law between 9 and 15 March 2015.
Sansern was forced to confess that he was involved in the bombing plan, because he used to give lectures about politics. He was a taxi driver, and when he was studying at Chiang Mai University he joined democracy movements. Prachatai stated that Sansern called himself a socialist. In 2010, he was one of the founders of The Social Democratic Front Party [р╕Юр╕гр╕гр╕Др╣Бр╕Щр╕зр╕гр╣Ир╕зр╕бр╕кр╕▒р╕Зр╕Др╕бр╕Ыр╕гр╕░р╕Кр╕▓р╕Шр╕┤р╕Ыр╣Др╕Хр╕в], which was aborted because it did not have enough members required by law to form a political party.
Sansern’s protest movements were based on peaceful means. He did not hide his political views and overtly disagreed with the coup. He declared that he was not the type that instigates terrorist attacks or bombings.
“I can only say what I think and can only talk about what I have done [to oppose the coup], but I cannot say that I did things that I didn’t do. They tortured me, but I won,” Sansern has said.
Eventually the soldiers stopped torturing him and turned to persuasion, by giving him water and food. It’s “for the sake of our friendship,” Sansern was told, before he was brought to a press announcement.
The Thai judicial system became a political tool for the anti-Thaksin conservative royalists long before the country’s most recent coup. Inconsistencies in the Constitutional Court and the Criminal Court caused grievances among the people.
Two verdicts that came out in July 2014 were obvious examples of legal inconsistency. The first verdict was on whether the PDRC thwarted the 2014 election by surrounding the Dindaeng voting station in Bangkok. On 9 July, the Criminal Court dismissed the case, stating that “the assembly of the PDRC members was legal action according to the ruling of the constitution court.”
The second verdict was issued on 22 July. It was regarding a case in which three people were arrested and accused of hanging a poster calling for autonomy for Lanna Thai from Bangkok on a crossing bridge in Chiangrai.
The court ruled the defendants be jailed for four years, reduced to three, but suspended the punishment as the court saw that the defendants gave useful testimonies.
The verdict stated that “hanging a poster with a message that stirs unrest may stir unrest. The message expresses rebellious views. When the defendants claimed that they did so to protest against injustice from the dismissal of the case against PDRC, the defendants’ accusation was baseless, thus does not make their action legal”.
The above two verdicts perfectly reflect the current Thai political conflict–the case for thwarting a general election was dismissed, but hanging a poster was penalised.
This contradiction has repeatedly occurred in the past decade. Another inconsistency is judicial issues between the military and the Red Shirt. Especially in 2010, when the military shot at the people, thar incident brought about great wrath among Red Shirt supporters. After the 22 May 2015 coup, the NCPO changed the investigation team whose task was to bring those who were responsible for the 2010 crack down on the Red Shirts.
One common thing between the political and the Lèse-majesté cases is forcing the accused to succumb, not just to authority, but to the idea and values that the elite want. This is not the usual legal interpretation of the law, but a brainwashing process.
Parallel to using force is the use of double standards. Red Shirt supporters and Thaksin supporters are severely penalised, especially in Lèse-majesté cases, as are those who are accused of armed struggle against the state. The anti-Thaksin activists, however, get mild penalties, if at all.
This condition has been going on since the beginning of the Thailand’s political conflict many years back. It has become worse since the May 2014 coup.
The claim by the NCPO that the coup was necessary to stop conflict and build reconciliation is not true and can never be true.
Wad Rawee is a Thai journalist, writer and editor.