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Korat assembly pressures junta as legal experts question integrity of court rulings

Feb 18. 2018
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PRESSURE against the junta is gaining momentum as defiant activists yesterday held another pro-election assembly under close surveillance, while experts expressed concerns that the judicial system was being manipulated to support the military government.

During the assembly, the 2nd Army Area was reportedly providing “facilitation and security” for commuters and people joining the event at Thao Suranari monument in Nakhon Ratchasima.

The event was organised by the Start Up People activist group, which on February 10 launched a landmark assembly in Bangkok calling for the repeatedly delayed election to take place this year.

Activist leader Sirawith Seritiwat had turned himself in to police after joining that assembly, but was then released on bail before joining yesterday’s event.

“Today is the beginning of our campaign here in Korat and we will host this activity in other major cities soon,” Sirawith said during the event in Nakhon Ratchasima, which is also known as Korat.

The assembly included the distribution of leaflets and was lived-streamed on Facebook, while officials in attendance apparently did not disturb the activities.

Activists plan to launch a series of assemblies through May calling for an election and also for the junta to step down and allow a return to democracy.

Lt-General Tharakorn Thamwin-thorn, commander of the 2nd Army Area, claimed that soldiers had successfully raised public awareness in the Northeast regarding the junta’s “necessity to shift the election date”.

“As has been said several times, the National Council for Peace and Order [NCPO] is committed to following the road map [to democracy],” Tharakorn said. “People understand this well so I don’t think such an assembly is significant.”

During the past week, the junta has held meetings seeking to identify “connections” between the activist movements and the recent public appearances of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, who reportedly were met by Pheu Thai members in foreign countries.

Meanwhile, an academic forum at Thammasat University’s Tha Pra Chan campus yesterday heard doubts about the legitimacy and lasting effects of laws enacted by the NCPO and the current appointed branches of government.

“The NCPO always claims that it follows the law, which is in fact the offspring of the junta’s own appointments,” said Teerawat Kwanjai, a law lecturer at Prince of Songkla University. “This has paved the way for the NCPO’s almost four years in power, combined with the public’s fear of prosecution.”

Regarding freedom of expression, the NCPO had limited rights through its own orders and more-intensively enforced standard legislation, Teerawat said.

The examples of laws being used in such enforcement included martial law; NCPO order no 3/2015, which authorises military officers to exercise police powers and arbitrarily detain people for seven days; the computer crime bill; and the public assembly bill.

One trend worth noting, Teerawat said, was that the NCPO had initially relied on martial law but recently invoked its own orders to detain people in specific cases.

“In other words, the NCPO seems to have more trust in the Thai courts after seeing how they barely have infringed on the junta’s authority,” he said.

Somchai Preechasinlapakun, a law lecturer at Chiang Mai University, said the justice system was an essential instrument to determine the NCPO’s legitimacy. “And the junta has maintained its power until now thanks to the courts – whether they be criminal, administrative or military – that do not deny the legitimacy of the NCPO,” he said.

“With the justice system being politically dependent, this will eventually result in the system’s usual norms being extremely eroded,” he added. 

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