A few brief updates from the region:
Burma/Myanmar: The National League for Democracy has established a network of lawyers called the Central Legal Aid Team to provide pro bono legal services across the country. According to the Democratic Voice of Burma, their work will focus mostly on defending political activists, although lawyer Aung Thein claims it will not be limited by its affiliation with the NLD.
Cambodia: While Yellow Shirts have yet to face justice in Thailand, Cambodia has started to prosecute seven Thais, including an MP and prominent Yellow Shirt activist, for illegal entry into a military zone. The incident is part of the larger border dispute between the countries over the Preah Vihar temple.
Indonesia: Members of the Islamic Defenders Front are now standing trial for attacking and stabbing a Christian minister in Bekasi. Sadly, this is only a more extreme case of rising Islamic antagonism towards Christianity in the country.
The Bangkok Criminal Court has just sentenced several members of the Yellow Shirt movement to 12-30 months for overrunning the National Broadcasting Services in 2008. Given the Constitutional Courts refusal to rule on the merits of the charges against the Democrat Party last month, this conviction is the first against the Yellow Shirt/anti-Thaksin forces. It’s not clear yet if this will be enough to satiate Red Shirts who complained about the partial judiciary. In all likelihood, it won’t. After all, the Yellow Shirts convicted were relatively minor figures, not the leadership. Still, perhaps it foreshadows further prosecutions and convictions against Yellow Shirts, such as the ringleaders of the airport sit-in in late 2008.
It’s been an exciting week for courts in Southeast Asia. Here are some updates:
Indonesia: The continuing saga of the prosecutions of Bibit and Chandra, two framed KPK officials, has taken yet another turn. The new attorney general, Basrief Arief, suggested that he might not support a deponering (essentially a pre-trial pardon) after all. Fortunately, this might not be just another cynical twist in Jakarta’s wayang politics. Like a pardon, deponering would essentially leave the two KPK officials with the stigma of being suspects or criminals for life, whereas some legislators in President Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party urge them to fight in trial to clear their name.
Philippines: As I mentioned earlier this week, the Supreme Court struck down Aquino’s Executive Order No. 1, which would have established a Truth Commission to investigate allegations of corruptions in the prior administration. Already, some are calling for the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona, including apparently Aquino himself. However, the Supreme Court spokesperson publicly stated the justices sympathized with the administration’s anti-corruption drive. Meanwhile, judges have been protesting the lack of a budget increase for the judiciary, and the Supreme Court denies having instigated the protests.
Thailand: The Constitutional Court issued its second ruling in the Democrat Party case, again absolving the party and Prime Minister Abhisit. As with the last case, the justices held that the prosecution had failed to follow proper procedures and file the suit in a timely manner. While question will certainly be raised ver the court’s impartiality, Thais will also probably have to wonder how such blatant malpractice in the prosecutor’s office ever passed muster.
Stay tuned for more from the region…
After much speculation and hand-wringing, Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled on the first of two campaign finance charges against the Democrat Party. According to the Bangkok Post, the justices dismissed the case because the prosecution had not filed its case within the proper timeframe. Given the gravity of the case and its political importance, a decision on such narrow procedural grounds is surprising, to say the least. Furthermore, if the prosecution had simply passed the statute of limitations, why even hear the case at all? A more cynical interpretation of the decision might suggest that the justices wanted to avoid any decision on the merits or discussion of the alleged violations. I don’t yet have a copy of the case (if any readers do, please let me know), so I can’t say whether anything else of import was discussed. I can predict that Red Shirts will almost certainly view the Constitutional Court’s decision as yet another example of judicial double standards.
As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, Thailand’s Constitutional Court is set to rule on whether Prime Minister Abhisit’s Democrat Party violated campaign finance laws (the expected date for the hearing is now November 29). As I’ve argued elsewhere, the Thai judiciary has generally had a reputation for probity and competence, despite concerns about political bias on the Constitutional Court.
However, as the Economist reports, a spate of YouTube videos posted “ohmygod3009” has now put the Thai judiciary itself on trial. In one video, a Democrat Party politician appears to be lobbying the secretary to the court president, Chat Cholaworn, for a favorable verdict. In others, judges appear to show judges conspiring to hire relatives. The court blames a conspiracy fomented “ill-intentioned people,” while the Democrat politician alleges Chat framed him (Chat has since left the country and the Economist speculates he might be the anonymous poster).
The big question now becomes how will these allegations affect the Constitutional Court’s decision? If these videos gain credence, then the Economist argues the judges might feel compelled to rule against the Democrats in order to prove that it was not influenced by improper considerations. However, I suspect the court will try to split the difference, as other Thai courts have in heated disputes (notably, the Supreme Court only ordered around half of Thaksin’s assets seized). Perhaps this will mean suggesting that the Democrats violated the law, but refusing to apply a punishment retrospectively (the alleged violations took place in 2004, whereas the most recent Constitution was promulgated in 2007). I think it’s safe to predict that the judges will face massive protests either way.
Sorry for the long absence. There’s actually been a good deal of excitement in the world of Southeast Asian judicial politics. Here are some updates from the region:
Burma: A Burmese court ruled against villagers in Kachin state seeking redress against a company that allegedly seized his land. No surprise there.
Indonesia: The Indonesian Supreme Court allowed a controversial prosecution of two members of the Corruption Eradication Commission. The Attorney General decided to drop the case, but several legislators have declared foul. Again, the Supreme Court seems not only unwilling to prevent corruption, but also willing to abet it.
Philippines: Relations between the judiciary and president are souring. The Supreme Court is ruling against several administration initiatives, including the toll hike and removing Arroyo’s midnight appointees.
Thailand: The Constitutional Court removed six Thai politicians, including some prominent Democrats. A ruling regarding Abhisit’s future is imminent.
Thailand’s Red Shirts seem to have included fair trials in their list of demands for the Abhisit government. Typically, their demands have centered on socioeconomic issues and “justice” for Thaksin. Now, according to The Nation
, Red Shirts in Chiang Mai are “calling for… a change in the justice system to more trials by jury.”
It would be interesting to see where this particular demand comes from. Thailand of course is a civil law country and has no jury system. Recently, other Asian civil law countries, such as Japan and Korea, have experimented with juries in criminal trials. Some research
suggests jury trials reduce judicial corruption.
However, a jury trial might also be a means for Red Shirts, traditionally identified as populists in the political spectrum, to inject popular representation into the judiciary, which, as I’ve argued elsewhere
, is still a fairly conservative institution. It could also have some resonance in delegitimizing the judiciary’s past decisions against Thaksin under the logic that such important criminal cases were not subjected to popular scrutiny.
In the current environment, I would be surprised if the Abhisit government did adopt jury trials. It will be interesting to see whether the rule of law NGOs operating in Thailand, such as the American Bar Association, throw their support behind jury trials…
Filed under jury, Thailand