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Thailand : 26 indicted on terrorism‚ arms possession

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  • Thailand : 26 indicted on terrorism‚ arms possession



  • #2
    Is Khon Kaen the new model of justice?
    Nanchanok Wongsamuth

    At the Khon Kaen Central Prison at 3.30pm on Thursday, seven inmates gathered in a 2m-wide room behind a thick glass window to have half an hour with their lawyers. Wearing light brown prison uniforms, the inmates are among the 26 suspects allegedly involved in the so-called "Khon Kaen model" of red-shirt resistance.

    A day later, nine charges were pressed against each of the suspects, including terrorism, which carries the death penalty.

    The case against the Khon Kaen 26 stems from this seizure of arms on June 25 by a joint police-military team. The military claims that this is an "arms shipment" that can be traced back to Jakrapob Penkair.
    (Photo by Prasit Tangprasert)

    Like the other suspects, 57-year-old Nattawut Cheewawittayanon denied any involvement in the case, and expressed concern about being indicted in a military court.

    "If it was a civilian court, I would have faith [in the court procedures]. But this is a military court, and what they say is the last decision, as we have no right to appeal," Mr Nattawut told Spectrum via telephone from behind the window. A prison officer was present in the room. "I don't know how I will be able to fight back."

    The Khon Kaen suspects are the highest profile batch to be tried in a military court since the military-led National Council for Peace and Order seized power on May 22.

    But do they have any guarantee of a fair trial?


    On May 23, the army arrested 22 red-shirt activists, seven allegedly with arms and explosives, at a hotel in Khon Kaen province. Officers seized bombs, bullets and photos of red-shirt leaders, and alleged that the suspects were planning a terrorist act. Four others were arrested after being implicated by the suspects. Somewhere between 10 and 20 people have been arrested in other provinces on similar grounds.

    The 26 suspects from Khon Kaen have been held in military custody for three months and encouraged to produce names of further members of their "movement".

    ANXIOUS WAIT: A woman prepares to visit her husband, who is accused of terrorism.

    On Friday, a court order was delivered to Khon Kaen Central Prison formally charging all 26 suspects on nine accounts, including owning weapons and terrorism, even though 15 say they were arrested without any evidence.

    In this case, the defendants were not notified of the charges in a public hearing at the military court, but at the prison instead. This is in line with the NCPO's announcement on July 21 amending article 142 of the Criminal Code, which had required that defendants be notified of charges in a public hearing.

    Relatives of all the suspects have applied for bail, but some of their lawyers say it is unlikely that they will be released due to the seriousness of the charges. The arraignment date, when the defendants will enter a plea, is Oct 21. In either case, witness hearings are required.

    Free Thai Legal Aid (FTLA) is providing legal assistance to seven of the 26 suspects. Comprised of 18 lawyers and formed immediately after the May 22 coup, the group has a mission of providing pro bono legal assistance to civilians detained under martial law. >>

    Winyat Chatmontree, secretary of the FTLA, has handled cases for many red-shirt supporters as well as former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. But he said the organisation aimed to provide justice and ensure human rights principles were upheld for all sides.

    "Since the May 22 coup, we are not sticking to any particular political group," he told Spectrum. He added that the case will probably last until next year depending on the number of witnesses, which include the suspects and their relatives.

    Mr Nattawut, one of Mr Winyat's clients, alleged he was forced to sign a "confession" outlining the alleged terrorist act, which included details that he was plotting the movement with another suspect.

    "They said if I didn't sign it, I wouldn't be able to go back up [to the cell], and they almost hit me," he said. "Since I was the first to sign the confession, I went back up and warned the others not to sign it."

    Twenty-four suspects signed the document, including one who does not know how to read.

    Mr Nattawut claimed he only knew one of the other suspects before the arrests. He said he received a phone call from Meechai Muangmontree, who is also facing charges, to have dinner at 4pm at a hotel where three rooms were booked. They knew each other because of personal business relations, but on that day they were to discuss issues related to agricultural projects, he said. Mr Nattawut claimed he has never heard of the term "Khon Kaen model" before.


    Charles Keyes, an anthropologist who has studied rural northeastern Thailand for more than half a century, said he suspects the "Khon Kaen model" has a grain of truth, as there are some red shirts - probably a distinct minority - who do feel they will eventually have to fight with all the weapons they can muster.

    "Unfortunately, this grain has been made to seem much bigger than it is and, thus, an anti-insurgency mentality has taken hold among some authorities, just as it did regarding the 'communists' in the 1960s and 1970s," he said. "I would hope that the authorities, whether in Bangkok or local (but beholden to Bangkok), are capable of distinguishing between the small number of anti-coup people who are likely to become violent and the vast majority of Northeasterners who support or sympathise with the red shirts."

    Police in June displayed a weapons cache in front of TV cameras, where a large number of foreign news reporters and military attaches from 22 countries attended.

    The "Khon Kaen model" is also linked to Jakrapob Penkair, a fugitive red-shirt leader, who has been accused of masterminding the armed uprising from abroad.

    "They are afraid of my international activities against them," Mr Jakrapob told Spectrum via email. "These charges are intended to paint me as an 'armed' warrior, so some countries may be reluctant to have a dialogue with us. So far, their tactics have not worked, and all of the countries we have been in contact perceive the allegations as fabrication."


    People living in the three southernmost provinces have lived under martial law for many years, but trials, even when related to national security, were still conducted in civilian courts unless the accused were military personnel. Angkhana Neelapaijit, chairwoman of the Working Group for Justice and Peace, requested that the current cases be transferred to civilian courts in order to guarantee a fair trial.

    The NCPO on June 12 vowed to provide justice to all civilians under the law. The announcement urged government agencies related to the judicial system to maintain clear standards in court procedures that are open for the public and to uphold judicial standards without any bias.

    "But it seems as though it will be difficult to seek witnesses and evidence to support cases under a military court, and therefore [suspects] will not be able to fully fight the cases," Ms Angkhana said.

    She also expressed concern regarding the freedom of lawyers under a military court, since lawyers are only allowed to observe military court cases in the deep South.

    Kingsley Abbott.

    "We do not know, for instance, whether or not they will be able to file any requests for additional witness hearings," she said.

    In the South, more than 80% of general cases are dismissed since it is difficult to seek witnesses. This is because people are afraid of authorities and fear for their safety, said Ms Angkhana, who is also the wife of Somchai Neelapaijit, a lawyer and human rights defender from the South who disappeared 10 years ago.

    For the past 10 years, no state official under trial was sentenced, and court procedures have been prolonged, giving people a sense that double standards are at play.

    She also urged the NCPO to lift martial law.

    "Under the current circumstances, there is no situation which poses a threat towards the security of the nation. The problem we have today is a problem of different views, which can occur in every country," she said. "If we want reconciliation, we should not use the law as a tool to crack down on those with different views."

    The legal community is concerned with the experience of the judges presiding over complicated cases in military courts.

    "We as lawyers do not feel comfortable regarding cases in the military court because we do not know whether or not the judges will understand the facts and law regarding the cases. We also do not know whether they will be impartial or whether they will be under the influence of [junta chief] Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha," Mr Winyat said.

    As a general principle, cases concerning civilian defendants, from low-level robbery to serious terrorism, fall under the jurisdiction of civilian courts to afford defendants their full right to a fair trial, a prominent Thai legal adviser told Spectrum.

    Military courts have jurisdiction in limited cases, such as those against military personnel or enemy belligerents, or in extreme situations, such as during war when civilian courts cannot function normally and martial law is declared.

    "Given that civilian courts can still function, it is highly questionable whether the ongoing military proceedings are justifiable, or are they in fact instruments of fear applied merely to ensure the stability of military rule," said the legal adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of retribution.

    Switzerland-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), an international human rights NGO that works to advance the rule of law, called on the cases to be transferred to civilian courts and fair trial standards to be observed.

    "The ICJ is very concerned about civilians being prosecuted in military courts whenever it happens anywhere in the world," said Kingsley Abbott, the ICJ's Asia-Pacific international legal adviser who was in Khon Kaen to observe the case.

    "The general principle is that military tribunals are not competent to try civilians and that the jurisdiction of military tribunals should be restricted to military offences committed by military personnel."

    Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a signatory, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

    A violation of this covenant would result in pressure from the UN and the international community.

    "The ICJ is concerned that these principles are not always met in military courts, wherever they are, because sometimes it is not clear whether the judges have the necessary professional background and experience to preside over a civilian case, or how independent and impartial the process will be as a whole," said Mr Abbott, adding that the ICJ will be following all cases of civilians being prosecuted in military courts in Thailand closely.


    When Spectrum visited Kanyarak Samantapant in June at the Khon Kaen police station, where she was being detained on six charges, she was clearly distraught - her face showed signs of weariness and she cried throughout the interview. A friend told Spectrum at the time that she appeared to be unusually thin.

    Ms Kanyarak arrived in the meeting room of the Khon Kaen Central Prison last week wearing lipstick and a bright smile. She appeared to be cheerful and said she is enjoying time in prison. Since Ms Kanyarak is a red-shirt DJ, she has been participating in many prison "events", including performing in a play.

    "Conditions here are not brilliant, but I am glad that I am doing something for the country," she said.

    Ms Kanyarak, who Mr Winyat is also providing legal assistance for, claims she is innocent, and that she will be guaranteed a fair trial in court.

    "I believe I will receive justice, and I hope the military is not taking sides. Deep down inside, I believe they are doing things in the interest of the country," she said.

    Visitors must fill in a request form when meeting suspects at Khon Kaen Central Prison. The visitor must state their names and relationship with the suspect. Then they must wait for their number to be called and visits last only 15 minutes, ending with a loud bell.

    Inside the meeting room, there are 23 windows where visitors and inmates can sit face to face. The suspects walk into the room in a straight line and stop at the specific window that they were assigned.

    Conversations are conducted via telephone through a thick glass window with steel bars inside. Couples can be seen placing their hands on the window panes in a show of moral support, even though their palms cannot touch.

    Outside, a large crowd of relatives gathers to wait for their number to be called, as the room inside is packed.

    Natkrittha Pijavachote, 48, drives 66km on her motorcycle for each visit to see her husband Kambong Siri, 47. Each trip costs her 100 baht for fuel, and she has already sold three of the family's motorcycles for 1,000-2,000 baht each to cope with increasing costs.

    "[The suspects] are only old and poor people. Where would we get the money to buy weapons, let alone use them?" she asked.

    Since Mr Kambong was arrested in May, Mrs Natkrittha has been struggling to make ends meet by selling sausages. Without her husband, she has no one to provide moral support and she is sceptical that he will receive justice.

    "This is a 'negotiation case' in the sense that it is a political one and is up to the consideration of the phuyai [senior figures]. But we are poor and have no hope," she said.

    "We have been fighting for justice for a lifetime but have never received it.

    "If I had to wai [pay respect to] their [the military's] feet to ask for justice, I would do that," she said, crying.

    KEEPING IN TOUCH: A red-shirt supporter, wearing a red hat, visits Kanyarak Samantapant at the Khon Kaen police station in June.


    • #3
      Twenty-four suspects signed the document, including one who does not know how to read.
      What the General wants the General gets .


      • #4
        The defendents line up to go tinside the military court

        Most of the defendants are the elderly

        The police added that if the alleged Khon Kaen Model operation was successful, other provinces, especially in the North, will follow.

        The 26 red shirts face the following charges:

        All the suspects, mostly aged 40-70 year-old, however, denied the allegations during the deposition hearing on Tuesday.

        During the deposition hearing on Wednesday, the court only allowed the defendants, the lawyers and an observer into the courtroom, disappointed families and relatives of the defendants. The court claimed the courtroom was too small.Isaan RecordThe families and relatives of the defendants


        • #5
          Military court grants bail to four Khon Kaen Model alleged rebelsAccording to a police press conference held in late May, the alleged rebel plan had four stages:

          The 26 red shirts face the following charges:

          Benjarat told Prachatai last week that she has filed a petition with the Khon Kaen Military Court to rule whether it has jurisdiction over the cases, while Winyat Chatmontree, another lawyer from the Free Thai Legal Aid (FTLA), who represents the 11 other defendants requested the staff judge advocate to clarify where and how the evidences were collected.

          He added that the evidences presented by the military are too weak and disproportionate with the severity of the charges.


          • #6
            The interrupted lives of the 'Khon Kaen Model' familiesA relative of one of the defendants reacts after seeing her husband walk into the courtroom in chains.About the authors: Kate Cowie-Haskell studies Anthropology at the University of Rochester and Plia Xiong is majoring in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They are student journalists on the CIEE Khon Kaen study abroad program.



            • #7
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