THAILAND’S junta government on Monday ordered national security cases to be judged in civilian courts, two years after placing such matters under the purview of the military and earning strong criticism from rights groups.
The junta had decreed soon after its May 2014 takeover from an elected government that military courts would judge national security cases, which included defamation of the monarchy, sedition, possession of explosives and violations of the junta’s orders.
The restoration to civilian jurisdiction became effective Monday when a decree issued by junta chief and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was published in the Royal Gazette. The junta can enact such decrees on its own under the temporary constitution implemented after the 2014 coup.
According to Khaosod English, the order was issued under the junta leader’s absolute power granted by its interim charter.
Taking immediate effect, the order would not affect ongoing cases.
The government cited improvement on conditions in the country as the rationale for change. The junta said there has been increased public cooperation following the referendum on the draft charter in August.
“As we saw, the referendum went well and the draft constitution of Thailand won overwhelming approval from people,” the order read, as quoted in Khaosod.
“Therefore, all measures should be eased so every party can exercise their rights and duties as well as will be protected under the provisions of the new constitution that will be officially come into effect soon.”
However, the order does not revoke the military’s powers to arrest, search and detain suspects for up to seven days but said Prayuth may decide to amend the provisions in future.
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Despite the move, Human Rights Watch said the Thai junta’s decision not to bring new military trials of civilians is a limited step that appears intended to deflect international criticism of Thailand at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The action by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the international organisation said, is undercut by ongoing military trials of civilians and the military’s retention of expansive police powers.
The 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council begins in Geneva on Tuesday.
“No one should be fooled by the Thai junta’s sleight of hand just before the Human Rights Council begins meeting in Geneva,” said its Asia director Brad Adams.
“The decision will spare many Thai civilians the injustice of a military trial, but repressive military rule is still a reality in Thailand.”
HRW said the action is not retroactive and does not affect the more than 1,000 cases already brought against civilians in military courts. Since May 2014, HRW said at least 1,811 civilians have been brought before military courts across Thailand.
“Fundamental rights and freedoms that have been repressed since the May 2014 coup remain curtailed. Expression of dissenting opinions against the junta, peaceful opposition to military rule, criticism of the monarchy, and public assembly of more than five people are still criminal offenses,” HRW said.
“No one should be fooled by the Thai junta’s sleight of hand just before the Human Rights Council begins meeting in Geneva.”
Additional reporting from the Associated Press