Category Archives: Jurist

Bangkok court shoots self in foot, again

da torpedo

A court in Thailand inched closer to its counterparts in neighboring Burma last week when it sentenced an anti-coup protestor to 18 years in prison. The Bangkok criminal court convicted Daranee Chanchoengsilapakul on three counts of lese majesty arising from statements she made in a rally to support the ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. In the speech, she connected the 2006 military takeover to the palace, and drew parallels between events in her country and the fate of the monarchy in Nepal, which was abolished in 2008 after a popular uprising.

The charges were brought against Darunee following a complaint from Sondhi Limthongkul, the leader of the army-sponsored anti-Thaksin movement that occupied the prime minister’s offices for three months and the national airport for about a week last year. Neither he nor any of his cohorts have been brought to justice over those events, despite the massive criminality involved, including assaults and alleged murders, wanton vandalism, and theft of public and private property. While targeting opponents for alleged crimes of thought and speech, Sondhi and allies continue to spread their own vitriol through a variety of broadcast and Internet media.

The judges made little pretense of conducting the trial fairly. Continue reading

Sound and fury after Suu Kyi verdict

ASSK verdict

The verdict handed down against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her co-accused in Burma this week surprised no one. The trial was throughout political, not legal in character. The only real question has been what, if anything, anyone else will do about it.

A chorus of angry statements from across the world quickly followed the end of the trial. Most of these were probably prepared weeks before, given that the final date for the judgment was delayed several times. In those weeks of angry statements smouldering on desks, waiting for the final details to be inserted, nobody did anything. Now that the trial is over, there is little evidence that they will either. The matter is being put to the UN Security Council, and it will most likely end there. A few countries may tinker with ineffectual trade embargoes and leave it at that. The sound and fury will go on for a while and then fade away, like it did following the protests of 2007 and the cyclone of the year after. Detailed reports of groups like the Asian Legal Resource Centre on the farcical cases against detained demonstrators, much like that launched against Suu Kyi, have not made news. Agencies involved in the cyclone recovery effort are having trouble to raise even a quarter of the money that they have sought to continue their work in the next two or three years, although the amount is miniscule in comparison to what was given for the Indian Ocean tsunami recovery effort over three years before.

Some commentators have pointed to noises coming from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a cause for hope, but that body consists of people who are experts at discharging smokescreens to confuse and demoralize others. Continue reading

Politics, not law, will determine Suu Kyi’s fate

Yettaw

At a meeting of lawyers in Hong Kong this April, Aitzaz Ahsan described how as counsel for the Chief Justice of Pakistan in the petition against his unconstitutional removal from office during 2007, neither the president nor any other senior official had even read the charges brought against the judge, which they had signed. Had they done so, they would have noticed that the charge sheet was full of blank paragraphs with the word “deleted” alongside. And anybody looking more closely should also have found that the petitioner had not even presided over an appeal in which he was accused of having struck a deal with one of the parties; yet a number of the judges trying him had.

Although the charges against the Chief Justice of Pakistan were framed in legal terms, neither their factual accuracy nor formal correctness was supposed to have mattered. Politics and military power, not laws and civilian authority, were meant to have determined the judge’s fate. Yet to his credit, as well as to that of his advocate, the Supreme Court bench and the legal community of Pakistan, the court reinstated the judge despite the wishes of a dictator.

The case now running against Burma’s democracy icon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is of the same type. Continue reading

Double legal standards jeopardize Thailand

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"We want to complain about a missing husband. He left home to join the Red Shirts and went missing." "He went missing on the day the army broke up the mob?" "No. On the day the police summoned him."

At a meeting of lawyers and jurists in Hong Kong this week a participant from Thailand identified the key issue for her country’s legal system as political control of the judiciary. Her statement was remarkable not because it revealed something that other participants didn’t already know, but because not long ago few professionals from Thailand willingly admitted that their laws and courts operate according to double standards. Now, few can deny it.

The double standards have been all too apparent this month. Following protests that forced leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and partner countries to flee from a summit venue in Pattaya, the incumbent prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, imposed a state of emergency as blockades and violence spread in Bangkok. The army deployed. A court promptly issued arrest warrants for the red-shirted demonstrators’ leaders. Some were quickly rounded up and detained, while others went into hiding.

By contrast, the yellow shirts that took over Government House and two international airports for an extended period last year were allowed to stay put until the government was forced out through a court ruling on a narrow question under the army-imposed 2007 Constitution. No soldiers came to eject them. The legal process took weeks to move against the organizers. When the new prime minister was questioned on the authorities’ inactivity he disingenuously said that it was a matter for the police, not him. The criminal inquiries have been repeatedly postponed and at no time have the yellow shirts’ leaders been held in custody. One of them, businessman Sondhi Limthongkul, last week survived a shooting attack on his car.

Although the ousted Thaksin Shinawatra regime undermined the work of the upper courts, it was the 2006 military coup that brought them back firmly and openly under executive control. The coup leaders shut down a senior court, appointed a tribunal in its stead, had it go after the former premier, declared themselves immune from prosecution and proclaimed all their orders lawful. After voters re-elected Thaksin allies to the lower house of parliament (top judges are now responsible for the upper), it took two absurd legal cases against successive prime ministers for the coup-makers to finally get a government after their own heart, rather than one that the electorate wanted. The judges responsible for the verdicts included men who owed their jobs to the generals.

The double legal standards in the handling of rival political camps have done nothing to diminish the likelihood of further bloodshed and uncertainty in the near future. On the contrary, the obvious differences in how the yellow shirts and red shirts have been treated will only encourage government opponents to resort to increasingly extralegal means to get their way. Both sides and their backers have the aptitude and means for violence. Thanks to the politicizing of Thailand’s courts, now they have more appetite for it too.

Source: Thai courts’ use of legal double standards encourages extralegal means by opposition

Constitutional game-playing imperils Thailand

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The verdict to dissolve three parties in Thailand’s coalition government and ban the prime minister and his party executives from politics for five years is the latest in a series of increasingly surreal judgments that have brought the country’s senior judiciary to the center of its political mayhem. It follows a ruling by the Constitutional Court’s predecessor last May to terminate the party of the ousted Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, from which the newly-disbanded People’s Power Party was born. It also follows another unanimous ruling from the court this September to throw out the then-Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej, for cooking on TV.

Like the cooking show verdict, the judges this time ruled on a narrow legal question under section 237 of the 2007 Constitution. According to this clause, any member of parliament found to have committed or abetted an offense under the electoral act, or contrary to any order or announcement of the Election Commission, shall be deprived of voting rights. These offences could be minor, may change from time to time with new orders from the commission, and do not even constitute criminal acts. But anyhow, if it can be shown that the party leader or any executive member knew about the offense and failed to do anything about it, then it is mandatory that the party is dissolved and its executive banned.

Imaginary scenarios for how a similar law might apply to other professions don’t need to be stretched very far to realize the section’s absurdity. Continue reading

Prison doors open, court doors close

Whether the release of some nine thousand prisoners from Burma’s jails last week was an act of self-described goodwill or a strategic manoeuvre by a government preparing the latest phase in its program for continued political control is of little significance when seen against the country’s unchanging legal codes, courts and policing agencies. The excitement over the discharge of star political prisoner U Win Tin, who is a former senior journalist and veteran activist, has not been matched by scrutiny of the laws and institutions that made his long imprisonment possible.

How Burma’s criminal justice agencies have over the last half-century been turned into agencies for injustice is the subject of recent research by the Asian Legal Resource Centre. The Hong Kong-based group has marked the one-year anniversary of the protests last September with a study that links ten cases against alleged protestors and their ringleaders to phased decades-long attacks on a legal system that was once ranked highly in Asia but is now among its worst.

The study, “Saffron Revolution imprisoned, law demented“, reveals the integral yet deeply flawed role that the courts in Burma have played in both guaranteeing and exacerbating nationwide systemic abuse of fundamental human rights. Continue reading

Full, but empty

May 10 was supposed to be a big day for Burma’s military, the day that it legitimated itself through the ballot box. On that day, millions of eligible voters were supposed to come and freely express their approval of a constitution that would guarantee the army a quarter of seats in parliament and reaffirm its role as the leading state agency in a “discipline-flourishing” democracy, with a constitution of the generals, by the generals, for the generals.

That was the plan. In reality, the military’s legitimacy has been decided upon by something else entirely. Cyclone Nargis not only obliterated hundreds of coastal villages and with them prospects for a trouble-free poll, but also any chance that the regime can now or at any time in the future obtain the credibility at home or abroad that the referendum was intended to secure for it. Never mind the widespread claims of vote rigging, bullying and miscounting. That the referendum was held at all, that almost two weeks on cyclone victims have received no help and are dying in makeshift huts of cholera, that rivers and fields are still full of bloated corpses and that officials are selling or hoarding relief supplies delivered from well-meaning donors abroad all speak to the regime’s barbarity and its absolute want of legitimacy. Continue reading