Figure 20. Organization of the Thailand National Police Department.
Touring Laotian border front in late 1970s, from left
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, Prime Minister Thanom Kittikachorn,
and King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Courtesy Royal Thai Embassy
King Bhumbibol Adulyadej meeting with hill tribespeople
participating in crop substitution program
Courtesy Royal Thai Embassy
The concept of public order founded on the supremacy of law has long been stressed in Thailand as a necessary prerequisite to internal security and the achievement of national development goals. For the most part, Thai governments, in accordance with constitutional provisions, have dealt with matters of public order through a comprehensive system of statutory law enforced by a professional police force. Some exceptions have occurred during periods of martial law, which has been declared to control dissidence perceived as a threat to public safety. In such times, summary justice at the hands of the police and the army has stressed expediency in a way that has drawn criticism from human rights advocates throughout the world.
One of these periods of martial law occurred after the bloody October 1976 coup d’etat, which brought to power the military junta known as the National Administrative Reform Council (NARC) and Thanin Kraivichien as prime minister (see Military Rule and Limited Parliamentary Government, 1976-83 , ch. 4). The regime abolished the 1974 constitution and ruled by decree and martial law. During the following year the government issued a series of decrees known as NARC orders. These restrictive measures were instituted following the brutal suppression of leftist student demonstrations at Thammasat University by police-supported and ultra-right vigilante gangs, such as the Red Gaurs (Red Bulls) and the Nawa Phon, or New Force (see Thailand in Transition , ch. 1).
Most of the NARC orders applied to activities neither covered by the criminal code nor under the jurisdiction of the established system of criminal courts. The orders were enforced by arbitrary arrests of people suspected of communist leanings; long-term detention or imprisonment, often without charge or trial; and summary execution of major offenders. Military courts had authority to try those defendants who were allowed a hearing, but the right of appeal was denied. The government also imposed press censorship, revoking the publication licenses of newspapers that criticized government activities.
One of the most repressive of the decrees--NARC Order 22--defined nine categories of offenses, six involving criminal violations and three identifying political activities that "endanger society." The political offenses were defined as "instigating confusion," advocating political systems other than those headed by the king, and undertaking labor strikes. The decree stated that political detainees could be held for thirty days and could subsequently be required to attend democracytraining schools for periods as long as three months. These schools, operated under the government’s reeducation program, provided lectures on democracy and Thai national institutions. Some NARC orders were retained by the Kriangsak regime immediately after it gained power in 1977 by ousting Thanin, but they were gradually phased out during conciliation efforts that led to adoption of the new Constitution in December 1978.
In early February 1979, the National Assembly unanimously adopted the new Anti-Communist Activities Act, which had universal application throughout the country. Later in the month martial law was temporarily lifted as the government prepared for the national elections to be held in April. In August NARC Order 22 was abolished, and the government revealed that nearly 12,000 people had been detained or imprisoned indefinitely under the decree’s provisions since its imposition in October 1976. All who were still incarcerated solely on "danger to society" charges were granted amnesty and released. Although these actions drew favorable responses from some human rights critics, others saw continuing problems in the criminal justice system under the Anti-Communist Activities Act of 1979.
The Anti-Communist Activities Act gave Thai security forces authority to search suspected individuals and establishments at any time without a court warrant and to detain suspects for a maximum of 480 days. Moreover, the act gave provincial governors and regional military commanders broad powers to control the activities of local populations by imposing curfews, banning demonstrations and meetings, confiscating mail, monitoring telephone conversations, and reviewing business employers’ personnel files. Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and the Union of Democratic Thai, regarded the new act as tantamount to a state of martial law. Most provisions of the Anti-Communist Activities Act were not enforced in the late 1980s because insurgent activities had been virtually eliminated. Most of the other aspects of arbitrary justice gave way to safeguards assured by the Constitution. Although laws mandating harsh sentences for certain major crimes remained, they were infrequently implemented.