OPINION: Thailand Army Please Release the 14-Year-Old You Secretly Detained

OPINION: Thailand Army Please Release the 14-Year-Old You Secretly Detained
Photo Credit: Reuters / 達志影像

What you need to know

A boy and three other youths accused of burning a portrait of the late King Bhumibol.

Thai authorities should immediately end the incommunicado military detention of a 14-year-old boy and three others for allegedly “insulting the monarchy." Abhisit Chailee, 14, has been detained since May 15, 2017, without any effective safeguards against abuse or mistreatment.

Thai soldiers and police arrested Abhisit and three other youths – Jirayu Sinpho, 19, Akkharapong Ayukong, 19, and Rattthathammanoon Srihabutr, 20 – in Khon Kaen province’s Chonnabot district for allegedly setting fire to a portrait of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Military authorities then transferred them to a detention facility at the 11th Army Circle Camp in Bangkok for questioning without access to legal counsel or their families.

The secret detention of a 14-year-old boy in a Thai military camp should set off alarm bells, especially since no improvements have come following past reports of military abuse. None of the four youths arrested should have been denied access to a judge and placed in an incommunicado military detention, whatever the charge against them.

Under section 112 of the Penal Code, lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) is a serious national security offense in Thailand resulting in punishment of from 3 to 15 years in prison. Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha made lese majeste prosecutions a top priority for his government. Since the May 2014 coup, the government has arrested at least 105 people on lese majeste charges. Some have been convicted and sentenced to years or even decades of imprisonment. In September 2016, General Prayuth revoked three junta orders that empowered military courts to try civilians for national security offenses, including lese majeste.

Acting on orders of the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), military authorities possess the power to secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and interrogate them without access to lawyers or other safeguards against mistreatment. However, in this regard, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release.

International human rights law provides special protections for everyone under age 18. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that, regardless of the circumstances, the arrest, detention, or imprisonment of a child should be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly raised concerns regarding the detention of children who are perceived to be a “threat to national security.” Children prosecuted for crimes need to be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, which emphasize alternatives to detention, and prioritize the rehabilitation and social reintegration of the child.

The Thai government should put to rest serious concerns for the safety of Abhisit by immediately letting him see his family, giving him access to a lawyer, and taking him out of military lockup. The United Nations human rights office and concerned governments should press General Prayuth to immediately end all such secret detentions and provide a full accounting for the treatment of all detainees in military custody.

TNL Editor: Ecward White