Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Military courts and pretrial confinement

There's a French expression, trompe l'oeil. It translates as "fool the eye" or "optical illusion." The phrase comes to mind in connection with this story about how an ostensibly civilian confinement facility in Thailand is actually a military-run operation on a military installation. Excerpt:
The authorities say the facility, hidden behind the low walls and trimmed hedges of the 11th Army Circle base near Bangkok's old city, is necessary for the efficient investigation of major threats to the kingdom. 
The government and army declined to comment on the facility, but the Corrections Department hosted a guided visit to the site for journalists in early December. 
Witthaya Suriyawong, the head of the department, rejected accusations that the jail is a military facility in civilian garb. While soldiers act as guards, the jail itself is administered by eight corrections staff, he said. 
"We are the prison that serves the Military Court," said Mr Witthaya. "In principle, police do the investigation." 
As reporters entered the bare cells, detainees sat cross-legged on the floor, facing silently away from visitors. 
The prison was needed to allow investigators easier and longer access to detainees, Mr Witthaya said. 
Even under martial law, imposed after the army seized power in May 2014 and lifted in April, lawyers say the military had mostly respected the legal requirement to either hand suspects over to the civilian authorities or release them after seven days. 
But the new jail, established within the military base under a decree issued on Sept 11, is run by the civilian Department of Corrections. That means detainees can be held there for up to three months. 
Rights groups say this is little more than a legal fig leaf for a facility aimed at keeping suspects under army control as they are railroaded through a system of military courts that have been used to try some civilians since the coup. 
"Legally, this place is under the jurisdiction of the corrections department, but in practice it is administered by the military," Sunai Phasuk, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

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