Pheu Thai’s ex-justice minister demands release of prisoners of conscience

Ex-Minister of Justice Chaikasem Nitisiri calls for all prisoners of conscience to be released, the military to stop staging coups, and the judiciary to restore faith in justice in order to solve the ongoing political turmoil. 

Note: This is an edited version of a speech delivered by Chaikasem Nitisiri, former justice minister and currently the head of Pheu Thai Party’s Strategic Committee on Monitoring the Justice Process and State Power, who spoke of Thailand’s current judicial system during the party’s Annual General Assembly on Oct. 28 in Khon Kaen province.

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From the day that Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha decided to stage a coup and overthrow the government of Pheu Thai Party in 2014, his failure to subject the [Pheu Thai] party to criminal prosecution was not his only crime: he has been violating the rule of law since the very first day he took the seat of power.

Afterward, Gen. Prayut has been issuing several orders and regulations that subvert the country’s rule of law and the system of checks and balances. He uses the law as a tool to crush dissent, especially citizens protesting who have borne the brunt of the government’s failure to deal with the pandemic and the economic crisis that has followed.

Instead of listening to the demands from the people, the government orders the police to violently break up rallies and arrest and prosecute ordinary people.

Seeing the law being used to crack down on the people so harshly, as if the authorities don’t even see the people as their own fellow countrymen, I have become worried. If the people lose all faith in the justice system, how can our country carry on?

A photo of the military generals who staged the coup in 2014 in the background, Chaikasem Nitisiri attacks coup-makers on stage during the Pheu Thai’s general assembly.

If my experience as a civil servant who worked for the country carries any weight, as an assistant attorney general, the attorney general, and the minister of justice, I’d like to use it to call for a release of all prisoners of conscience who think differently from the government.

This is to restore faith in the rule of law and the state of justice once again. Return these teachers-to-be, doctors-to-be, scientists-to-be, lawyers-to-be to society. Return the future to the younger generations. Return the life to the people, who is crucial to the prosperity of the nation

For all the things I am saying, I am not speaking out of hatred to the institution of the judiciary. I am not asking those associated with the system to do anything beyond their duty as the law commands, beyond their work ethic or resolution to uphold justice for the people.

We all know, principally, that all suspects in a criminal proceeding are considered innocent until proven guilty. It’s a basic principle that should be applied equally to all people. Faith in the system will be restored among the people only when all parties in the system are committed to their duties in a way that makes people believe that justice is real.

Law and justice 

A law that’s to be enforced on people should get approval directly from the people, or from representatives of those who would be impacted by it. To implement a law impartially, the goal and purpose must strive for all parties involved to be treated fairly. Power must not be abused arbitrarily. It is in this way that the country’s state of justice can be maintained.

The absence of rule of law can also drive a country into an economic crisis. Any country that legislates or enforces a law arbitrarily, without any standard, naturally this fact would impact investors’ confidence and indulge relentless, shameless corruption, while the people are disregarded.

Restore the rule, the law, justice

The key solution that would reinstate the rule of law and the state of justice to the country is:

First, the rulers or the administrators must come from a free and fair election by the people through the mechanism of a constitution originating from genuine public participation.

Second, a law must be approved by the people through the parliament – the public’s representatives. Those who hold a position in an independent administrative agency must be subject to the sovereignty of the people, for the law to be enforced with justice and fairness. The governmental organizations must work in a straightforward way for the people, not for their cliques or cronies.

Although the 2017 constitution mandates the parliament, the cabinet, the court, the independent agencies and the government departments to perform their duties in accordance with the rule of law, in fact several of its statutes go against the rule of law. For example, the senators who are appointed, instead of elected, have the power to vote for a prime minister. The amnesty, the announcements and decrease by those who staged the coup and were legitimized by the constitution and the law.

Third, the institution of the judiciary must not give consent to coups claiming sovereignty. Power from a coup is like the fruit from a poisonous tree that therefore produces poison fruit. No matter how it tries to change its form, the fruit must still be poisonous.

I had proposed an amendment to the constitution that prohibits future coups by proposing that the constitution must clearly state that a coup d’etat is an act of treason and cannot be claimed to have any legitimacy and importantly from which no claim to sovereignty can be derived. Another important point is there must not be a statute of limitations to this crime. Although the constitution is revoked, to remain with the democratic governance principles of constitutional monarchy, it must be possible to punish coup instigators even if the constitution has been revoked.

Only justice can resolve conflict

I believe that the justice system can still be the last resort of the people. Once we fully restore the rule of law and the state of justice to Thailand by a legislative process that is fair, the authorities will enforce the law justly, and the judiciary will be impartial. Regardless of the era we are in, or the generation we belong to, the younger ones or older ones like me, we all seek justice for our lives to be peaceful.

Only justice can resolve the country’s turmoil and conflicts. Only justice can move the country forward.

Only justice can build hope and a better life for the people. In Thailand, there must not be a single prisoner of conscience. No more soldiers can rob the power away from a civilian government, and no more can people be bullied by the law.

Read Thai version here

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