Panitan puts case for keeping martial law

Panitan puts case for keeping martial law

Panitan Wattanayagorn: Thailand is very sick... a strong pill [is needed]
Panitan Wattanayagorn: Thailand is very sick... a strong pill [is needed]

A government adviser has defended the continuation of martial law after a group of lawyers released a damning report that exposed violations of human rights and international obligations under martial law.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political science expert and adviser to the Ministry of Defence, said the political situation is not yet stable enough to lift martial law despite human rights concerns.

"Under a country with martial law, you'd expect certain pressure on human rights just to keep peace, order and civility," he said. "Of course the military realises that in the end, in principle, martial law is not good for Thailand because it's a strong pill. If you take a strong medicine too long, it may destroy your internal organs."

But he added that "Thailand is very sick", pointing to the Siam Paragon bomb explosions, the forged statement about the King's health and calls for violence from both red shirts and yellow shirts on TV, radio and social media as evidence of instability.

"If one group comes out, the other will come and then the peaceful demonstrations will turn violent," Mr Panitan said. "This is the trend in the past 10 years."

On Monday, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said just the opposite, that martial law is not justified in Thailand's current political climate. Drawing on client experiences, TLHR released findings that the use of martial law to detain people and expand the Military Court's jurisdiction has constricted basic human rights.

"This is not a war or emergency situation," said Pawinee Chunsri, a lawyer with the group. "Even if we leave martial law and people come out and protest, I don't think it'll be violent or that it will provide sufficient grounds to have martial law."

According to a recent poll, 46% of people believe martial law is still necessary, 33% have a wait-and-see attitude and 21% believe it should be lifted.

The report called for an end to the criminalisation of political assemblies, which has resulted in prison sentences of three to six months and 3,000-10,000 baht fines. And it concluded with a final recommendation: "Revoke martial law immediately."

Since the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) imposed martial law in May last year, 666 people have been summoned, 134 people have been arrested "while protesting peacefully", 362 people have been arrested for other political charges and 36 people have been prosecuted for lèse majesté, the report said.

Under martial law, people have been arrested without warrant, detained arbitrarily for seven days without access to lawyers and refused bail without sufficient legal reasons, the report said. It also pointed to allegations of officials torturing detainees to coerce confessions. There is no opportunity to appeal against procedural rulings, convictions or sentencing in the Military Court's single-tier system, it said.

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