THAILAND: State must act to end torture and harassment of those fighting it

Thailand acceded to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) on 2 October 2007. Nearly ten years later, on 26 May 2016, the Thai government issued a Cabinet Resolution stating that it will pass a Prevention of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act. However, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to note that since then, there has neither been a national law passed nor significant changes in the practices of state security forces.

Compounding the grave concern that the AHRC has over the ongoing use of torture in Thailand and the lack of accountability through either judicial, administrative or legislative means, is the alarming use of institutions from all branches of government to persecute those who dare to hold alleged perpetrators to account.

According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, since the 2014 coup, it has received torture complaints from 19 persons held in custody. All of them complained about the torture during the seven days of custody under martial law or the NCPO Order No. 3/2558 (2015), during which they did not have access to the outside world. Therefore, the allegations of torture could not be examined at the time. It is unlikely that the complaints will lead to any independent or impartial investigations.

In the case of suspected Bangkok bomber Adem Karadag or Bilal (Uyghur man), Adem alleges that he was tortured and coerced into confessing a central role in the 17 August 2015 attack which killed 20 people at Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine. According to a letter addressed to the president of the Uyghur American Association in January 2016, Adem claimed that he was punched in the stomach several times by the military and police officers who served as English interpreters, and was threatened that he would be killed if he did not confess. Due to exhaustion and fear, Adem then told the officers that he was the man who set the bomb at the Erawan Shrine.

On 17 May 2016, Adem was brought to the Judge Advocate General’s Department for the examination of evidence. Reporters were told that he was violated by some officers in the temporary prison, the 11th Military Circle. After the examination of witnesses and evidences, Chuchart Kanpai, Adem’s lawyer, told reporters that the Bangkok military court received Adem’s torture complaint and had considered about transfer him to other prison as he pleaded.

Rights defenders and persons who speak out against torture routinely find themselves victim of Thailand’s outdated criminal defamation law. On 26 July 2016, officers from Makkasan Police Station arrested Naritsarawan Kaewnopparat, niece of torture victim Wichian Puaksom, for posting information online about the torture of her late uncle and demanding that the perpetrators be prosecuted. Wichian was a military conscript who was tortured to death by fellow soldiers in 2011. Although Wichian’s family was given compensation, none of the soldiers were prosecuted for criminal offences.

Earlier this year, the military filed a complaint of criminal defamation and computer related crime against human rights defenders Somchai Homlaor, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, and Anchana Heemmina, for ‘causing damage to the reputation of the Thai Royal Army’ by publishing a report on torture cases in southern Thailand. This is a clear instance of judicial harassment against rights defenders who have been supporting survivors as well as pushing for policy reform to prevent torture and provide legal assistance to survivors and their families. They should be lauded for their work in support of human rights, not persecuted.

This judicial harassment of the three human rights defenders and victim’s family is not an isolated incident, but rather is symptomatic of a broader pattern of Thai state action to conceal torture by state officials. This is in direct conflict with Thailand’s obligations as a state party to the CAT. Accountability for torture is a moral, legal, and national security imperative. Therefore, strong investigation is definitely needed in torture cases. 

The AHRC would like to urge the Thai state to immediately withdraw the complaint against Somchai Homlaor, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, and Anchana Heemmina and end its harassment of Naritsarawan Kaewnopparat. In addition, the Thai state should take action to defend victims of torture, protect those defending their rights, and set up an independent mechanism to investigate torture complaints. This is a clear opportunity for the Thai state to preserve its reputation and act in support of the principles of human rights.