On Oct 30, the provincial courts in Chumphon, Ranong, and Surat Thani ordered the immediate release of 85 complainants who had been detained in military bases for a 4-month occupational training programme; 51 in Chumphon, 6 in Ranong, and 28 in Surat Thani.
The 85 complainants were among 203 insurgent suspects who had been rounded up in military operations in the southern border provinces. The complainants had asked the courts for their release, claiming their detention was unlawful.
The three provincial courts handed similar verdicts. The Surat Thani court ruled that the occupational training programme was not considered unlawful detention under the criminal code, but despite the trainees' initial voluntary participation in the programme, the trainees later did not wish to continue with the training. Under Article 32 Paragraph 5 of the 2007 Constitution which upholds individuals' rights and freedoms, the court ordered the military to stop the training of those who had complained as of Oct 30.
Present to hear the ruling at Chumphon Court were human rights advocates including the Chair of the Working Group on Justice for Peace Angkana Neelapaijit, as well as an official from the US Embassy Guy Markalish.
After hearing the verdict at Ranong court, relatives of the detainees were glad, but were concerned that the detainees would still not be able to return home, due to the 4th Army Commander's order under Martial Law banning them from entering the three southern provinces.
Col Kitti Jan-ead, commander of Rattanarangsan military base in Ranong, said that the military had to follow the court order to release the complainants, and he would consult his superiors on how to deal with the remaining trainees.
Foundation for Human Rights and Development lawyer Nitithorn Lamluea who attended the court in Chumphon said that despite the courts' order, the trainees still could not return home because of the 6-month ban by the 4th Army Commander which took effect on July 22, 2007.
He had negotiated with the military to give the trainees three days to decide whether they would continue with the training, because the programme was due to finish on November 24, 2007. However, the trainees were still not sure if, after finishing the programme, they would return home innocent. The military personnel only confirmed by phone that they would be able to return home for sure, but there was no assurance in writing, Nitithorn said.
Angkana Neelapaijit said that because of the 4th Army Commander's ban the detainees had nowhere to go as they had no relatives outside their provinces. Initially, the released detainees in Surat Thani and Ranong would go to stay at the central mosque in Surat Thani where they could cook for themselves, while those in Chumphon returned to the military base, and waited for their relatives to pick them up.
Angkana said that the detainees had never been aware of the banning order by the 4th Army Commander. They came to know about it only when military personnel testified in court. The Prime Minister and the army must be held to account for the problem. Where will people go when they are forbidden to return home, she asked?
"If these people are to be detained further or are suspects, there must be evidence, and the criminal procedural code must be followed. These court orders have set a precedent that the authorities cannot detain these people against their will," Angkana said, adding that the other detainees can ask for their release if they are not willing to continue with the training.
Press Release: AHRC
THAILAND: Courts order release of detainees in landmark cases
(Hong Kong, October 31, 2007) Three courts in southern Thailand on Tuesday ruled that the authorities could not hold hundreds of men in vocational training camps there against their will, thus upholding landmark illegal detention petitions lodged by the families at the start of October.
The petitions, under section 90 of the Criminal Procedure Code, were lodged after inmates requested to visit their homes but were refused. The army authorities had described the training as voluntary.
"Section 90 is an important but neglected part of law in Thailand which is the equivalent of the habeas corpus writ in common law jurisdictions," Basil Fernando, executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), said in response to the verdicts.
"Thus, both the petitions and the verdicts are of immense importance not only to these detainees and others in the south, but everyone in Thailand," Fernando said.
An observer from the Hong Kong-based regional rights group attended one of the courts, as did members of the Bangkok-based Working Group on Justice for Peace and other human rights monitors, representatives of the European Union and those from international missions.
The petitions were lodged simultaneously before courts in Surat Thani, Ranong and Chumphon, the three provinces were the camps are situated, and the judgments also given simultaneously at the three places.
A summary of the verdicts prepared by the working group follows.
Fernando welcomed the findings of the courts releasing the men, but raised questions about their findings that the detention had not been illegal.
"The men were evidently held against their will and outside of the provisions of any law, be it ordinary criminal law, martial law or the emergency decree operative in the southern provinces," he said.
"We look forward to reading the judgments in full to understand the courts' reasoning on this point," he added.
Fernando also expressed concern about an order from the Fourth Army Region commander, issued in July, which would prohibit the released detainees from returning to their hometowns for six months.
"Under certain circumstances, the authorities have a legitimate right to place restrictions on movement, including at times of war or civil disturbance, as in the south of Thailand," he said.
"However, this particular order appears to target almost 400 persons without rhyme or reason," Fernando said.
"We urge the authorities concerned to revoke this needless order so that these men, who have already been treated as criminals without evidence and separated from their families without any justification be allowed to go back home," he concluded.
Courts issue verdicts on four-month occupational training programme
The provincial courts in Suratthani, Chumpon and Ranong announced their verdict on 30 October regarding the legality of the four-month occupational training. Over 300 men from the three southernmost provinces have been held in occupational training camps since August 2007. The government had argued that the men volunteered to do the training. However, ninety-seven detainees had submitted written requests to the camp commanders to be permitted to go home on 3 October 2007 which was denied. The relatives of the detainees then submitted petitions on 5 October 2007 to the three courts to order the army to release the men on the grounds their detention is illegal. The court hearings brought to light that the men were indeed forced. They were presented with the choice of either undergoing the four-month occupational training or being charged with national security offences without the option of bail. The judges asked the detainees whether they wanted to go home and all men answ! ered affirmative. Moreover, during the court hearings it was discovered that the 4th Army Region passed an order dated 23 July 2007 prohibiting 384 individuals, which includes those undergoing the four-month occupational training, from entering or residing in the provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and parts of Songkhla for six months. The army argued that these individuals could cause unrest in the region upon return. The training program was set up to adjust the attitudes of the suspects while giving them vocational training.
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.