THAILAND: AHRC to attend court reading of appeal verdict in disappeared lawyer’s case

(Hong Kong, January 18, 2011) The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) will send international and domestic observers to attend the reading of the verdict on January 21 in the appeal case concerning the disappearance and presumed killing of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit, its executive director announced today. 

“This is an historic case of tremendous importance not only for Thailand but also for the regional human rights movement,” Wong Kai Shing said. 

“The AHRC has followed and worked on the case of Somchai since within days that police abducted him from a street in Bangkok in March 2004, and on Friday we will have people in the courtroom from Thailand and abroad to hear the reading of the appeal verdict, as we did throughout the trial of the five accused in the court of first instance,” Wong said. 

The Appeal Court verdict will be read at the Criminal Court, Bangkok on Friday, January 21, at 9:30am. 

In 2005 and 2006 the Hong Kong-based regional rights group sent observers to the criminal trial of five police charged with offences connected to the lawyer’s forced disappearance. It compiled the trial observation notes into a 144-page dossier, “The disappearance of a person and the defects of a system”. The dossier is available on the Somchai campaign webpage: 

The Criminal Court convicted one of the five accused, Police Major Ngern Thongsuk, and sentenced him to three years in prison. He was released on bail pending appeal, but in 2008 reportedly died in an accident. His body was never recovered. 

“It is highly suspicious that this police officer while awaiting the outcome of a case against him for abducting Somchai has himself mysteriously disappeared,” Basil Fernando, director of policy and programmes at the AHRC, said. 

“For a resourceful police officer in Thailand to obtain the assistance of his colleagues to create a new identity would not be terribly difficult, and it is with good reason that people doubt the reports of his death,” Fernando added. 

The reading of the appeal verdict was delayed from September after a lawyer representing family members of Ngern submitted a motion to have his name removed from the list of accused. In November, the wife of the disappeared lawyer, Angkhana Neelaphaijit, submitted a counter-motion for the verdict to be read without his name being removed. 

Meanwhile, on December 21, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which had been investigating a group of 19 police over the alleged torture of five men whom Somchai was representing at the time of his abduction, as well as over abuses of another 27 persons, announced that it would close its inquiry because of a lack of evidence. 

Among the 19 police under investigation was the current deputy national police commissioner, Police General Phanupong Singhara na Ayuthaya. 

“The closing of the investigation into these allegations of torture speaks to the continued impunity that law enforcement officers in Thailand enjoy for practically any type of criminal offence,” Fernando said. 

“While the government of Thailand has joined the U.N. Convention against Torture and makes claims that it is committed to international human rights standards, this case shows how hollow its commitments really are,” he added. 

“The fact that a case of severe torture, the allegations of which were serious enough that the police chose to abduct and murder the lawyer for the victims, has been handled by an anti-corruption watchdog itself speaks to the total lack of any kind of institutional arrangements for the investigation and prosecution of torture perpetrators in Thailand,” Fernando observed. 

Among the five victims of torture whom Somchai was representing, one was abducted and also disappeared in the south of the country on December 11, 2009. Two senior police officers, including Pol. Gen. Phanupong, have charged another of the five with making false accusations, and the criminal case against him is pending. 

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PRL-001-2011
Countries : Thailand,
Campaigns : Somchai Neelaphaijit
Issues : Enforced disappearances and abductions,