Holding closed-door trials in military court for civilian defendants and forbidding observers from taking notes in other cases undermines the due process of law, two human-rights activists said.
They voiced these concerns after the military court sentenced two anti-coup protesters to suspended prison terms on Monday, while instructing both local and foreign observers to not take notes during the trial. The court also said it would proceed with four lese majeste cases behind closed doors.
“This is a cause for serious concern and goes against the National Council for Peace and Order’s assurance that the military court would follow due process [of law],” Sunai Phasuk from Human Rights Watch (HRW), said.
He said he was most concerned about whether those facing serious charges, such as violating the lese majeste law, would be tried fairly, as they cannot appeal given that the military court is the court of first and last instance.
Yingcheep Atchanont, project manager at iLaw, an NGO advocating legal reform, on Monday went to observe the trial and sentencing of the two anti-coup protesters but was instructed not to take any notes.
Chainarin Kularbum was given a three-month suspended sentence for joining a protest of more than five persons against the coup, while Yodyiam Srimanta was give a six-month suspended sentence for not reporting to the military junta’s summonses.
Yingcheep speculated that the judges might have banned observers from taking notes because they know this is not something the international community would appreciate.
New Zealand and Belgium embassies sent officials to observe the trial that day, he added.
“My guess is that the court is also afraid, as they’re being watched by the media and the international community. The military court is aware that these are political trials, and that it would not look good in the eyes of the international community,” Yingcheep said.
He added that he believes the right to fair trial has been compromised by the very fact that note-taking is forbidden and that the four lese majeste cases are being heard behind closed doors, without any observers or media.
“It’s bad enough that civilians are being tried in a military court,” Yingcheep pointed out.