This would be a sharp change from the current rule under martial law, in effect since May last year, when the army seized power. It allows the military to hold someone for seven days at most; after that, the person must be released or presented to a civilian court to be charged.
But under the proposed amendment to the Statute of the Military Court Act, a military court would decide how long a detainee can be held, up to a limit of 84 days.
There is no reference to civilian judicial scrutiny, and it appears to give military officers with the rank of division commander and above the latitude to arbitrarily decide what circumstances warrant detention, said analysts who have seen its wording.
The United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are among organisations which have issued statements of concern over the amendment, which is part of a wider bid to amend the law that specifies the function and jurisdiction of military courts. The National Legislative Assembly (NLA), handpicked by the military, is scheduled to vote on it this month.
However, Vice-Admiral Krisada Charoenpanich, an NLA member and secretary of the committee vetting the proposed amendment, on Thursday said the UN and others had misunderstood its intentions. The law would apply only to military personnel, not civilians, he said.
But in an interview with The Straits Times, Sam Zarifi, the Bangkok-based regional director for Asia and the Pacific for the independent International Commission of Jurists, called the amendment “unclear and very dangerous”.
However, he said the vice-admiral’s clarification was welcome. “If they can change the language to clarify that this law doesn’t apply to civilians, that’s a good step,” he said.
Last Saturday, Amnesty International, in a statement, said: “It is deeply worrying that the Thai military authorities are trying to give themselves even more power to violate the human rights treaties by which the country is bound.”
On Tuesday, the office of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva said: “We are concerned that a number of proposed amendments to the 1955 Act on the Organisation of Military Courts… are not in line with international human rights standards.
“We are particularly concerned that the proposed amendment to Section 46 would authorise military commanders to issue detention orders for both military personnel and civilians under the Criminal Procedure Code for up to 84 days with no judicial oversight.”
Yesterday, New York-based Human Rights Watch weighed in. In an e-mail to the media, it said: “Thailand’s government is trying to hand the military unchecked authority to detain civilians.”
The European Union, in a statement yesterday that did not mention the amendment but referred to military detention in general, said it was “concerned about detention without judicial overview”.
Thailand, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, had a “duty to bring suspects promptly before a judge”, it said.
Speaking to The Straits Times on Thursday, NLA member Anusart Suwannamongkol said the committee that was readying the draft amendments was aware of the concerns. There was a general effort across the board to “upgrade” legislation and this is one of those, he said, adding that it was expected to be put to a vote next week.