Further to our previous appeal, the reading of verdict on the case of Somchai Neelaphaijit was again postponed. The court issued an arrest warrant, as required by the criminal procedure, to compel one the five defendants to appear in court to hear the verdict. But at the same time a petition to declare him a missing person is also pending in court, which would further delay the reading of verdict on technical grounds.
UPDATED INFORMATION :
In our previous appeal (AHRC-UAU-007-2011 ), we mentioned that the threats and intimidation on Angkhana Neelaphaijit have increased while the reading of verdict from the Appeal Court on the disappearance of her husband, Somchai Neelaphaijit, is being repeatedly postponed.
On 7 February 2011, Angkhana and her family again appeared at the Criminal Court in Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok to hear the verdict but left the court without hearing anything as it was postponed, again. The postponement was again due to the absence of one of the defendants, Police Major Ngern Thongsuk, in court to hear the verdict.
This is the third time that Angkhana Neelaphaijit and her family have appeared at the Criminal Court to hear the verdict on the case of Somchai (Black case no.1952/2547; Red case no. 48/2549). Somchai, a human rights lawyer, had been forcibly disappeared in 12 March 2004. Please read our earlier statements: AHRC-STM-020-2010; AHRC-STM-029-2011.
As already expected, the verdict was not read because the Criminal Procedure Code (article 182, paragraph 3) requires that the defendants in criminal cases must either be present, or that a series of steps must be undertaken to confirm that they have been properly notified.
The reading is expected to be delayed further due to the pending petition to declare Police Major Ngern a missing person. His missing person case is set to be heard on 14 February 2011 at 1 pm in the Prathumthani Provincial Court. If he is ruled to be a missing person, then his family can again submit a request to the Criminal Court that his name should be removed as a defendant from the case.
On February 7, however, the court issued an arrest warrant for Police Major Ngern. The reading of the verdict on Somchai’s case would have to be postponed for at least thirty days to allow the execution of the warrant. The new schedule for reading of the verdict has now been set for 11 March 2011 at 9am at the Criminal Court in Bangkok.
The AHRC is concerned that even with the issuance of the arrest warrant on Pol. Maj. Ngern, he would not appear in court to hear the reading of verdict and the reading may again be delayed further. The end result could be that the reading of the verdict in the case of the disappearance of Somchai Neelaphaijit will be further delayed long into 2011, and perhaps even beyond.
On the same day all parties involved in the criminal proceedings in the case have gathered expecting to hear the verdict of the Appeal Court concerning the conviction of one out of the five accused, Pol. Maj. Ngern. One Thai and two international observers from the AHRC joined other observers from Thai nongovernmental organizations, international nongovernmental organizations, and several embassies who monitored the hearing.
The first scheduled reading of the verdict was on 24 September 2010, but the Criminal Court postponed the reading and sent the verdict back to the Appeal Court because Pol. Maj. Ngern’s lawyer submitted a motion to remove his name from the case. At the second scheduled reading of the verdict on 21 January 2011, the defendant did not appear again, despite a warrant requesting his appearance having been sent by registered mail.
The AHRC is deeply concerned about the further delays in the reading of the verdict in the Somchai Neelaphaijit case and is concerned that what seems like a series of legal technicalities may be masking a broader, deeper strain of impunity. After the delay in late January, the AHRC observed that , “Although the procedural technicalities that keep forcing postponements in the reading of the verdict can individually be waved aside ….The unavoidable conclusion is indeed that they are part of a concerted strategy by powerful persons in and behind the scenes to demonstrate once and for all that it is not only pointless but also dangerous and impertinent to demand justice for gross abuses of human rights by the police and other security officials in Thailand.”
The attempt to declare Pol. Maj. Ngern a missing person is the latest manifestation of this concerted strategy. The timing of this attempt – one day before the reading of the appeal verdict and the sharp finish of the two years term after he allegedly went missing following a natural disaster – immediately raises a question of the veracity of the claim. Further, many actors involved in the case have expressed concern over the alleged details and evidence surrounding his missing person’s case.
There is a simultaneous judicial process taking place in relation to Pol. Maj. Ngern’s alleged status as a missing person Ngern has been allegedly missing following a mudslide in 2008 and his family submitted a motion to the Prathumthani Provincial Court to have him officially declared a missing person in 23 September 2010, one day before the scheduled reading of the appeal court verdict.
Finally, the AHRC finds the use of laws surrounding missing persons to attempt to evade accountability in the case of the victim of forced disappearance to be a cynical action which fosters impunity. It is aware of at least one other case where a police officer implicated in wrongdoing was declared a missing person under the law and changed his appearance rather than accept responsibility, despite these efforts this police officer was later apprehended and tried.
Given the concern that the missing person case of Pol. Maj. Ngern Thongsuk may be an attempt to curtail the possibility of justice in the case of the disappearance of Somchai Neelaphaijit, the AHRC urges all concerned persons and organizations to observe the hearing in the missing person case of Pol. Maj. Ngern Thongsuk.
The details are:
On the Missing Persons case of Pol. Maj. Ngern Thongsuk
Date and time: 14 February 2011 at 1pm
Venue: Prathumthani Provincial Court
And also the new schedule on the reading of verdict on Somchai’s case;
Date and time: 11 March 2011 at 9am
Venue: Criminal Court, Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (firstname.lastname@example.org)