THIALAND: The Judicial Harassment of Human Rights Defenders and Torture in the South

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to draw the attention of the interested persons to follow the judicial harassment of three human rights defenders in Thailand.

According to the AHRC Urgent Appeals case (AHRC-UAC-065-2016) which was released on 13 June, 2016. The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) is an organization that monitors and documents cases of torture and ill-treatment in Thailand. In 2002, The CrCF was registered under the Ministry of Culture. Since then the group has worked closely with its partners, such as the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, Lawyers Council of Thailand, and Thai Volunteer Services. They facilitate legal aid and access to justice for vulnerable groups. They promote understanding among diverse communities through research and information dissemination.

From 2014 to 2015, the CrCF and Duay Jay Group, a local organization based in Thailand’s Deep South region which supports people who suffer from the justice system, worked together to produce a torture report by monitoring and documenting cases of torture and ill-treatment in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces, southernmost Thailand.

The report was partly funded by the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, established under the UN General Assembly resolution 36/151 in 1981. Mr. Somchai Homlaor as president of the CrCF, Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet as a director of the CrCF, and Ms. Anchana Heemmina as a director of the Duay Jay Group, worked as co-editors of the report.

On 8 January 2016, one month before its publication, the CrCF and the Duay Jay Group sent the report to Army Lt. Gen. Wiwat Pathompak, the director of the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 (ISOC 4). In response, high-ranking military regime officials publicly dismissed the accuracy of the report and vilified the intentions of the organizations involved in its compilation.

On 10 February 2016, the CrCF and the Duay Jay Group launched the report, ‘Torture and ill treatment in The Deep South Documented in 2014-2015.’ It documented 54 cases of inhuman treatment in detention. As a result the Thai Royal Army started to threaten all three editors and the human rights groups who supported them in the documentation.

As noted by the Asian Human Rights Commission statement (AHRC-STM-019-2016), one day after the CrCF and the Duay Jay Group released the report, Major General Banpot Poonpien, the ISOC spokesperson, accused the human rights groups of fabricating accounts of torture to obtain funding from abroad. He also asked whether or not the groups had a mandate to investigate the work of state officers. He ended with the threat that they could be committing defamation by issuing a report referring to international law.

On 8 June 2016, Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet was given information through a phone conversation by ISOC 4. She learned that ISOC 4 sought the power of attorney from the Royal Thai Army. They submitted a complaint to Pattani Town Police Station on 17 May 2016 for criminal defamation under Section 328 of the Thai Criminal Code, and violation of the Computer Crimes Act B.E.2550 (2007), Section 14 (1). Authorities have already interrogated six witnesses and the police case file number is 704/2559.

The AHRC wishes to note that this is not the first instance where the Royal Thai Army has attempted to sue the three human right defenders. In September 2014, Mr. Somchai Homlaor and Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, as well as their organizations, faced a criminal defamation and computer-related crimes charge filed by Paramilitary Unit 41. The case was eventually dropped by the decision of the public prosecutor in June 2015. It was dropped due to an international campaign denouncing the Royal Thai Army’s harassment and intimidation of these human right defenders for their legitimate and crucial human rights work. (See AHRC-UAC-133-2014 and AHRC-STM-164-2014 for more details.)

From 13 to 15 June 2016, Mr. Somchai Homlaor Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Ms. Anchana Heemmina received summons to present themselves to the police on 26 June 2016. But they postponed the meeting to 26 July 2016 because their lawyer had not had sufficient time to examine the case file.

On 26 July 2016, while three human rights defenders were travelling to Pattani Town Police Station, they received information regarding a torture victim whom they had helped. The police arrested Ms. Naritsarawan Kaewnopparat, niece of torture victim Mr. Wichian Puaksom, from her Bangkok workplace, for defaming the Thai military and violating the Computer Crime Act. Ms. Naritsarawan had posted information online about the torture of her late uncle in February 2016, and demanded that the perpetrators be prosecuted.

Mr. Wichian Puaksom was a military conscript who was tortured to death by fellow soldiers in 2011, after he was accused of deserting his military training. According to the military investigation, a number of soldiers, at the request of Sub-lieutenant Om Malaihom, tortured him. On 1 June 2011 they stripped Mr. Wichian down to his underwear and dragged him over a rough cement surface before repeatedly kicking him with military boots and beating him for several hours. The soldiers applied salt to Wichian’s wounds, wrapped his body in a white sheet, read the funeral rites, and then engaged in another round of beating. Wichian died from his injuries four days later, on June 5.

After suing the Ministry of Defence, the Royal Thai Army and the Prime Minister’s Office for malfeasance, Mr. Wichian’s family was given 7 million baht in compensation for their loss in February 2014. Although Sub-lieutenant Om and the other nine soldiers received military disciplinary punishment of 30 or fewer days in detention, none of them were ever prosecuted for criminal offences.

The AHRC wishes to note that under Section 328 of the Thai Criminal Code, All three editors were faced with imprisonment not exceeding two years and fined not exceeding two hundred thousand Baht and under Section 14/1 of the Computer Crimes Act B.E.2550 (2007), they were also faced with imprisonment not exceeding five years or fine not exceeding one hundred thousand baht or both. Therefore, The AHRC urges all concerned persons to attend the court as observers, and calls on other interested persons to follow the case closely.

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