Bring an end to 'lawfare'

Bring an end to 'lawfare'

Even though the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) was dissolved last year, the "lawfare" it waged is still taking a heavy toll on the lives and freedoms of the people.

This week, the Criminal Court in Bangkok has begun hearing at least 13 cases which have been transferred to it from a military court since last year, after much delay and little progress.

Some may question whether these are cases of "justice delayed is justice denied". Larger questions remaining are whether pursuing these and other cases launched by the military is justified at all and whether they should be dropped, given that the majority of the lawsuits involve expressions of opinions or peaceful acts of defiance against the NCPO.

Ten of the 13 lawsuits involve sedition, lese majeste and computer crime charges. The other three cases relate to alleged possession of weapons.

Among those charged is former deputy prime minister and former key Pheu Thai member Chaturon Chaisang. He has been accused of violating an NCPO order and the Computer Crime Act for holding a press conference five days after the May 2014 coup, criticising the military takeover.

After more than five years of proceedings in the military court, Mr Chaturon said only two of 18 witnesses had been cross-examined. During this time, he has been banned from making financial transactions and overseas travel.

Another case involves a sedition charge against political activist Sombat Boonngamanong over a Facebook post that called for people in Bangkok to give three-finger salutes as a gesture of defiance against the NCPO.

Patnaree Chankij, the mother of prominent student activist Sirawith "Ja New" Seritiwat, is charged with lese majeste stemming from writing ja -- roughly "yeah" -- in response to a private Facebook message from another person. The original post allegedly insulted the high institution.

These are among least 2,408 cases brought against ordinary people by the NCPO since 2014, according Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a civic group that has provided pro bono legal assistance to many facing charges.

Some cases have been dropped, while all the remaining lawsuits have been transferred to the Criminal Court and provincial courts since last year. Meanwhile, some of those accused have been held in prison while awaiting trial. They include Thanet Anantawong who has been remanded in custody for more than three years while fighting a sedition and computer crime case for sharing online an infographic on alleged corruption related to Rajabhakti Park.

These prosecutions were initiated by the military regime as a means to silence its critics and threaten political activists, sending a message to others about the legal consequences should they follow suit.

Given that the judicial process against them began during his leadership of the NCPO, it must have dawned on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha by now that pursuing these lawsuits is not justified and he should order the authorities involved to drop the cases involving freedom of expression. When he seized power, he pledged to bring about reconciliation among Thais. His regime has failed in this task.

In fact, during this current government, authorities are still adopting the same legal tactics against opposition politicians and activists who have held peaceful rallies and other political events. This kind of unjustified "lawfare" needs to end. It is rubbing salt into the country's gaping political wounds.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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