Fears over 84-day detention without charge under new Thai bill

Unclear wording of amendment could see law applied against civilian suspects in cases deemed an emergency
AFP, Bangkok
February 20, 2015
Rights groups Friday expressed concern over a bill passed by Thailand's junta-picked parliament that they say could allow the military to detain civilians for up to 84 days without charge.

The assembly voted late Thursday in favor of an amendment to the Military Court Act enabling greater powers of detention over military personnel under "exceptional circumstances" with members insisting the new law would not extend to civilians.

But activists fear the unclear wording of the amendment could see the law applied against civilian suspects in cases deemed an emergency, increasing detention without charge from seven days under martial law — imposed by the army before it seized power last May — to 84 days.

"The fear is that civilians will be held by the military for up to seven weeks without judicial oversight in, for example, national security or lese majeste cases under a very vague definition of an emergency," said Sam Zarifi, Asia director for the International Commission of Jurists.

The ICJ is seeking clarification from the government on how they define exceptional circumstances.

"At best it is a poorly drafted bill. Or at worst it has been cleverly drafted to minimize criticism," Zarifi said.

Pawinee Chumsri from the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights is also concerned about the law being used against civilians under junta rule.

"We're afraid a lot of arbitrary detentions will be brought," said the lawyer, adding she was "worried about practices during detention — interrogations, torture, forced disappearances".

The military-stacked assembly has defended the scope of the bill, saying the fears are unfounded.

"Through this bill civilians will not be brought to the military court," said National Legislative Assembly member Vanlop Kerdphol on a televised parliamentary debate ahead of the vote to pass the bill, adding it will apply only to "military people".

Under junta rule Thailand has seen a rapid erosion of civil liberties with the military banning political gatherings, censoring the media and detaining political opponents.

Charges and prosecutions under the country's controversial royal defamation laws have also surged since the coup, with rights groups saying they are politically motivated. AFP

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