Secret Military Detentions in Thailand

As of late, Thailand has been struggling to produce a functional government. A coup in 2006 led to a military supported democratic government, which in the past six months, has suffered heavy street protests. This led to its fall and another coup on May 22 of this year. The new military junta has decided to call itself The National Council for Peace and Order led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. They have stated that they intend to install another democratic government, but the time frame for military power has been given as “indefinite.” A recent incident involving illegal military detentions do not bode well for a democratic Thailand.

This week Human Rights Watch called for the arbitrary military detentions by the Thai junta to stop. More specifically, it called for the release of a political activist named Kritsuda Khunasen, 27, who was arrested on May 28, and has not been seen or heard from since. The military government has declined to disclose any information on her whereabouts.

The reason Khunasen’s case raises some red flags is because most of the people arrested with her have been set free, and on June 17, the military junta put her name on a summons list for people who have to turn themselves in or face arrest. By putting her name on the list, it would appear that the military junta is trying to create the perception that she has not already been detained.

Rights organizations are worried they put her on the list because something has happened to her and they are trying to cover up her disappearance. However, there is video evidence of her being arrested on May 28 and her family has not seen her since the arrest.

Khunasen works with the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, which is a group that was opposed to the late and ineffective prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. They recently switched objectives and have begun to oppose the military coup. Within the group Khunasen “has been instrumental in a campaign to provide legal and humanitarian assistance to UDD members and supporters affected by political violence.” She is a well-known political activist so her detention is not surprising as many other prominent activists have been detained.

This detention is illegal. It violates the 1949 Martial Law Act which was adopted by the military junta after it took power on May 22 of this year. This law only allows for seven days of detention. Thailand is also a party of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which rules against arbitrary arrests and torture. Disappeared people historically suffer high levels of torture.

The detention of Khunasen and the possible cover-up of her disappearance is worrisome for Thailand, which has been in the midst of political crisis for years now. Since the junta took power a few short weeks ago, between 300-500 people have been detained. The junta has also enforced a curfew and has begun cracking down on immigrant labor. In fact, 188,000 Cambodians have fled the country in recent weeks.

Although the NCPO claims to be in the process of arranging democratic elections by August, an attempt to cover-up an illegal detention brings those claims into question. How can they claim to believe in democratic ideals when they detain people illegally? If the NCPO wants to move Thailand in the right direction, it would seem that Khunasen should be released, or at least given access to a doctor and legal counsel.

— Eleni Marino

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Time, NY Times
Photo: CNN