THAILAND: Mistreatment of woman detainee convicted of lese majesty — Asian Human Rights Commission

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) listened with close attention to your speech on 14 September 2009 to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, and is aware of your work for the rights of women prisoners in Thailand through the Kamlangjai Project, as well as with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and your role as a UNIFEM Goodwill Ambassador. We note with interest your remarks that in addition to violence against women, “Yet there is another gender-specific issue that requires greater attention, and that is the treatment of women prisoners… Thailand [has undertaken] to develop the draft United Nations rules for the treatment of women prisoners and non-custodial measures for women offenders.”

The AHRC shares your concern for the conditions of women prisoners in your country, and in this spirit wishes to draw your attention to the maltreatment of one particular woman prisoner currently held at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution, 47-year-old Darunee Chanchoengsilapakul.

Darunee, as you may already be aware, was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison on 28 August 2009 on three counts of lese majesty. She was denied bail and held for the duration of the trial. She is also planning to appeal her sentence.

However, since she has been held in prison she has suffered a number of forms of maltreatment, one of which is systemic, the others of which we believe are a consequence of the charge for which she was convicted.

First, she is suffering health problems but has not received treatment. Her jaw is locking and she is unable to open her mouth properly to eat or brush her teeth. As far back as January, while awaiting trial, a doctor examined her and recommended that she receive treatment outside the facility, but to date she has received none. Her attempt to get bail so that she could seek medical treatment at her own expense also failed. As you will be aware, there are many other prisoners in need of outside medical help that are not getting any, and in this respect her case is typical rather than exceptional.

Second, since her detention she has been kept isolated from other detainees throughout the daytime. She is kept outside a guardpost and made to sit under the roof there alone. At nighttime she is brought back to sleep with other detainees; however, other detainees have reportedly been warned not to speak to her and to inform the guards if she tries to communicate.

Third, since her conviction she has been issued a prison uniform that is brown with red on the sleeves. According to the advice that the AHRC has received, this uniform should only be assigned to convicts in very serious criminal cases, such as drug dealers where the amount of amphetamines recovered exceeds 100,000 tablets.

Fourth, since her conviction the wording on the card that she must carry with her in prison to identify her offence was changed to a much more serious expression from that on the original card. Whereas the previous card identified her offence as having defamed the monarchy, the new card uses the Thai word “arkhatmadrai”, which is often translated as “threaten”. But as you are aware, the connotation of this word is grave; it does not indicate a passing threat but suggests deep malice that a person may carry throughout her life.

Evidently, the second, third and fourth aspects of Darunee’s mistreatment in prison are intended as forms of additional unofficial punishment because of the nature of her conviction. The third and fourth in particular appear intended to provoke needless hostility towards her among staff and other detainees.

In light of the above, and given your roles in the Kamlangjai Project as well as with UNODC and UNIFEM, on which you had the opportunity to speak at the Human Rights Council, we kindly request that you pay special attention to the conditions of imprisonment of Darunee Chanchoengsilapakul, and:

1. Ensure that she receives proper medical treatment without further delay;

2. Not be isolated from other prisoners and be given the same opportunities as other detainees;

3. Be re-issued an ordinary prison uniform appropriate to her conviction; and,

4. Have a card issued that also accurately describes her conviction and is not designed to provoke hostility from among those who read it.

We look forward to your prompt intervention.

Yours sincerely

Basil Fernando
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

1. Ms. Angkhanung Lepnak, Director, Central Women’s Correctional Institution, Thailand
2. Mr. Peeraphan Saleeratwipak, Minister of Justice, Thailand
3. Mr. Gary Lewis, Regional Representative, UNODC, Thailand
4. Mr. Homayoun Alizadeh, Regional Representative, OHCHR, Thailand

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OLT-025-2009
Countries : Thailand,