Speaking at a seminar on Saturday held to discuss a report that examined 100 legal cases audited by the Muslim Attorney Centre Foundation and the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative, experts said the entire system needed to be seriously examined. Out of the 100 cases studied, 72 were dismissed, all on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
The vast majority of the suspects were charged with terrorism, unlike during the separatist conflict in the 1970s and 1980s, when militants were charged with treason.
Officials in the South can employ special legal regimes – Emergency Law and Martial Law – that permit detention for up to 37 days without formal charges. Suspects are virtually incommunicado the entire time.
The experts said that under Martial Law, 39 cases of torture and 27 cases of verbal abuse were reported. For those held under Emergency Law, 37 alleged to have been tortured, while 25 experienced verbal abuse. The same kind of treatment has also been reported under normal legal proceedings.
Most of the suspects were locked up during the cases, which can take anywhere from one to three years to reach a verdict.
Pairote Polpetch, a member of the Legal Reform Committee, said the problem lay with the authorities’ unwillingness to question cases that were sensitive, which leads them to simply pass them on.
Moreover, the lengthy detention periods, which are not subject to any review, may lead to questionable and illegal interrogation tactics, such as torture, as the authorities try to obtain information from the suspects, Pairote said.
International Crisis Group’s Rungrawee Chalerm-pinyorat asked whether this was a problem exclusively for the South or for the entire country.
Moreover, quoting a senior police officer, Rungrawee said there was a feeling that without these special laws, rogue officials may employ controversial and illegal means, such as abduction and murder of suspects.
The violence in the deep South was political in nature but the Thai legal process did not take this into consideration, she said.
The government also employed Article 21 to give an incentive to insurgents to lay down their arms. But the scheme failed to attract much participation because, according to senior government officials in the region, the militants see themselves as winning. Such a process is best reserved for a post-conflict period and should be used as a way to reintegrate the insurgents into society.
Pairote said judges and the Office of the Attorney General should be more vigorous in screening and demanding more solid evidence from the law-enforcement officers. “They can help filter the process at the early stage instead of waiting until the legal process exhausts itself,” he said.
One senior officer in the region said there was concern that many suspects who had been locked up for a year or two would come out with extreme anger and then join the movement.
Participants urged the authorities to investigate allegations of torture and abuse, saying faith in government depended upon the sincerity of officials and the justice system.