22 March 2019
It has been reported that residences of several MP candidates in many constituencies have been searched by the police and military authorities. The MP candidates have also faced various forms of harassment. In at least two provinces, the police and military forces have raided the residences of the MP candidates, invoking Section 44 of the Interim Constitution 2014 and the Head of the NCPO Order no. 13/2559. In Phayao, on 17 March 2019, five military officers and six police officers raided the residence of Mr. Puth Sunanta, an assistant to Dr. Pairote Tanbanjong, Pheu Thai Party’s MP candidate in Phayao. In Mae Hong Son, on 20 March 2019, fully armed military officers raided the residence of Mr. Niran Chankaen, a chairperson of the Huay Pha Municipal Administration Organization in Meuang district and the residence of Mr. Somsak Na Matkham, Chairperson of the Mok Cham Pae Municipal Administration Organization in Meuang district. Both are members of the political campaign team who work for Mr. Sombat Yasin, Democrat Party’s MP candidate in Mae Hong Son. Mr. Somsak further revealed that during the same period, more than 20 members of the Democrat Party have also been subjected to such search operations.
There have been at least two searches which have been conducted without warrants. The first one was on 19 March 2019 in Nakhon Phanom, where five young men in black jackets with crop haircuts raided the residence of Mr. Somboon Naka-in, a party-list MP candidate of the Pheu Thai Party. He is a close aide to Mr. Chaowalit Witchayasuth, a Pheu Thai Party’s MP candidate in Nakhon Phanom. The men claimed their appearance to “inspect and prevent vote buying.” When being asked of their affiliation, they, however, refused to disclose the detail. The men even took photos of the house and all the vehicles parked therein. In addition, in Nonthaburi on 20 March 2019, about 30 police and military officers raided several places claiming it was a part of their operation to crack down on electoral fraud. They have even raided and searched a grocery store belonging to Ms. Kanchana Charoennonthasit, Vice Chairperson of the Bang Bua Thong Municipality Council in Nonthaburi who is a sister in law of Mr. Wanchai Charoennonthasit, a Pheu Thai Party’s MP candidate in Nonthaburi.
On 20 March 2019, the Pheu Thai Party issued a statement urging the government and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to cease their power to harass other anti-military parties. Meanwhile, the Democrat MP candidate reported the case to the police in Mae Hong Son after members of his campaign team had had their houses searched. The NCPO Spokesperson, Col Winthai Suvaree, explained on 21 March 2019 that such search operations had been conducted through the invocation of normal criminal law by the police as they had received reports about the potential breaches of the election laws. He denied that the officers invoked Section 44 in order to harass those people. He admitted that certain number of military officers have participated in the search to prevent vote buying and any harmful act against political rivals, and to preempt possible attempts to impede the exercise of rights to vote of the people.
According to the search operations memo of the authority in Phayao, it was officially written that the authority had invoked Section 44 of the 2014 Interim Constitution and the NCPO order no. 13/2559 to raid the residences. This is, however, in contrast to the explanation of the NCPO Spokesperson.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, therefore, would like to share these opinions on the raid and search operations;
- Military authorities have no mandate related to the electoral process or the prevention of vote buying. Despite being joined by law enforcement officers, the search in each place has been conducted without judicial warrants and without any explanation of concerned charges. Such act constitutes an attempt to intimidate and harass MP candidates and concerned people.
- Even though the Head of the NCPO Order no. 13/2559 bestows power on the “Prevention and Suppression Officers” to conduct a search of places, persons or vehicles without having to produce judicial warrants, the search has to be justified by reasonable ground which may prove that the persons or the properties are being used for committing criminal offence, classified into 27 types, per the detail in the annex of the Order. Such search can only be conducted based on the condition that any delayed search would result in the transferring or conversion of the persons or the properties. The annex to the Head of the NCPO Order no. 13/2559 does not include electoral fraud as a type of crime that could have been invoked to trigger such search. The military officers, therefore, cannot invoke Section 44 and apply it to such situation. Any search conducted involving Section 44 would render an unlawful operation.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights deems that the search of residences and other forms of harassment carried out by the military against individuals including MP candidates, concerned persons and political activists is unacceptable. Such operations shall not happen particularly during the political campaigns where the head of the NCPO Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is running as a prime minister candidate and amidst the skepticism of the general public toward the state officers’ exercise of power that has been a breach of the rule of law in the past four year.
Moreover, such search operations can potentially impede and compromise the effort to ensure a free and fair election. This is because the Head of NCPO continues to serve as Prime Minister and fully retains his commanding powers over any agencies including the military.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights urges the military authorities and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to immediately stop invoking Section 44 of the Interim Constitution 2014 and the Head of the NCPO Order no. 13/2559. Should the military officers are informed of any potential electoral fraud, they could report cases to either the police or the Election Commission of Thailand for further proceeding in compliance with the due process of law.
With respect for the rights and liberties of the people
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR)