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A military assault on a political enemy 

Apr 15. 2019
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By The Nation

Decision to try Future Forward Party’s Thanathorn in a martial court shows junta is not about to ease its grip on country

The government has hit back at a group of Western diplomats who turned up at a Bangkok court earlier this month to observe  Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit being charged with three offences. Among them is the allegation that the Future Forward Party (FFP) leader committed sedition during a pro-democracy protest four years ago. Meanwhile the government has defended the controversial decision to try Thanathorn in a military court despite the nominal return to civilian rule with last month’s election. It argues that Thailand is no different from other countries that use 

martial courts, which form a legitimate part of the judicial system under Chapter X of the Constitution. 

The Foreign Ministry declared that the presence of diplomats at Prathumwan police station to witness Thanathorn being a charged not only violated diplomatic protocol, it indicated that they were siding with Thanathorn. In short, the diplomats were interfering in Thai politics.

Diplomacy and protocol aside, the government has not been able to convince any neutral observer that it is dealing with legal action against Thanathorn in good faith.

Digging up ostensibly minor infringements of draconian restrictions to target a major rival for power stinks of political manipulation and bodes ill for Thailand’s hope of both justice and democracy.

The junta government promised two years ago that it would not try any more civilians in military courts. By going back on its word, the pro-junta party may suffer a hit to its credibility that renders its success at the March 24 poll irrelevant.

Both military and civilian courts rely on the same Criminal Code. Defendants in both can appoint lawyers, and suspects can be freed on bail. However, the military court comes under the Defence Ministry, which is mainly focused on security concerns. 

Regarding Thanathorn’s case, the government recently reiterated NCPO Order No 55/2559 dated September 12, 2016: “Such offences committed from 12 September 2016 shall be under the jurisdiction of the Courts of Justice, whereas offences committed prior to the date of the Order shall remain under the jurisdiction of the Military Courts.”

This justification for trying the FFP leader in a military court becomes weak to the point of laughable when you consider that the regime that has ruled the country over the past five years is now seeking to return to power under a new guise. 

The government of the day also needs to consider that the country is going through a major transition, to bring back some degree of normalcy and democracy. 

To revert to the old game of power politics because it doesn’t like the support that FFP garnered for electoral policies aimed at cutting the military’s role in politics shows the government is a sore loser, scared of criticism and resorting to bullying tactics. Old habits plainly have not died in the five years since junta leaders doffed their uniforms and donned business suits. Clinging on to their old bullying ways gives the majority of Thais who voted for an end to junta rule little hope for change.

Instead of trying to use the law to bully FFP, the government and the incoming administration should speak out about what kind of country they desire Thailand to become.

Employing the same old bullying tactics brings little hope and confidence in a nation that is trying desperately to move on from a political crisis and deadlock that has suppressed development in this country for far too long already.

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