UPDATE (Thailand): A Commander tries to exonerate himself and his men over an Imam’s death


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAU-042-2008
ISSUES: Arbitrary arrest & detention, Death in custody, State of emergency & martial law, Torture,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been informed about the post-mortem court inquiry on June 30 into the death of an Imam while in military custody. It confirmed the earlier autopsy report that his broken ribcage and punctured lungs were a result of severe beatings. The Acting-Commander is trying to exonerate himself and his men from any responsibility for the death.


The post-mortem inquest into the custodial death of ImamYapa Kaseng has already been held on June 30 in Narathiwat Provincial Court (AHRC-UAC-055-2008, AHRC-UAU-017-2008, AHRC-UAU-038-2008). Both the Cross Culture Foundation (CrCf) and the Muslim Attorney Center (MAC) were involved in the inquiry.

During the inquiry, three persons gave their testimonies in court. They are, Major Wicha Phuthong.  He was the acting- commander of the Special Task Force, Unit 39, when the victim was held in his custody for days. The doctor, Dr. Suphawit Pakdichoke, who had performed the postmortem on the victim.  And Nima Kasent, the victim’s wife.

TESTIMONY OF Major Wicha Phuthong

In his testimony, Major Wicha claimed that although he was the acting -commander of the unit when the incident happened, he had already assigned officers to their respective duties. He tried to give the impression to the Court that he was not aware of who was on duty and who took the detainees into custody at the time.

Major Wicha, did, however, admit to having seen several persons taken into camp following their arrest on 19 March 2008. We had reported in our previous appeal, that Imam Yapa was arrested together with his two sons and a nephew shortly after the soldiers went into their village, supposedly searching for evidence relating to bomb -making (AHRC-UAC-055-2008).

Major Wicha claimed that none of the persons he had seen taken into their camp were injured.  He said that he saw them being held inside a truck together with other detainees. 
They were all waiting for transfer to another army camp, Ingkayuthaboriharn Army Camp in Pattani province.

Major Wicha, denied knowing the names of those officers on duty holding the detainees and the soldier who was in charge of the keys of the truck. He mentioned that the soldier in charge of the keys, and his superior in charge, who changes daily, were given instructions by a Commander whose name he did not produce. On March 19 to 21, 2008, the said Commander had given verbal orders to a soldier on duty, a sentry, to keep the keys. Major Wicha admitted that the soldier had been able to keep the keys, but did not give the soldier’s name.

He also added that, usually, sentries working in front of his camp or in other places in the camp were given orders by the Commander in writing. When he was asked whether the Special Task Force, Unit 39, maintained the records of those who were on duty on March 19 to 20, he avoided giving a clear answer. Instead, he said that even though such arrangements should have been observed, the records of those on tour of duty are not kept for long. They are thrown away once the sentries completed their duties. His testimony implies that the records of March 19 to 20 might also have been thrown away and do not exist anymore.

It’s ironic that Major Wicha actually admitted that his Unit did not keep the records of those on tour of duty, although he did say that his Unit maintains such records. Keeping such records is quite important to prevent possible violence in the camps. For this purpose, the sub-section 1 of Principle 12 of Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment clearly mentions that the State has to duty to record, (a) The reasons for the arrest; (b) The time of the arrest and the taking of the arrested person to a place of custody as well as that of his first appearance before a judicial or other authority; (c) The identity of the law enforcement officials concerned and (d)The precise information concerning the place of custody.

The AHRC is gravely concerned about such deliberate and illegal destruction of these records taking place in camps in the southern provinces in Thailand. This would subsequently allow on-going widespread violations against the rights of the detainees and allow impunity for the violators. You can also read a column on this issue: Mechanics of murder in a Thai army camp.

Major Wicha mentioned the names of four soldiers, namely; Sub Lieutenant Sirikhet Wanichbamrung, Sergeant Major 1st Class Narongrith Harnwech, Sergeant Bundit Thinsuk and Sergeant Major 1st Class Reurngnarong Bua-ngam, who were on duty on March 20 at the time the victim was held. When asked about the duties of these four officers on March 20, he replied that he did not know them in detail. According to him, Major 1st Class Reurngnarong Bua-ngam is responsible for supervising the detainees held in custody. However, he again claimed that he could no longer remember whether the latter had been on duty on March 20 or not.

Major Wicha also claimed that he had no knowledge about the wounds and injuries on the body of Imam Yapa. This, despite the fact that he himself was present when the doctor came to perform the postmortem examination on the victim’s dead body. He maintained that he was not close enough to Yapa’s body when the examination was performed.

Major Wicha’s testimony to the Court presents two scenarios. The first scenario is, that he does not in fact know anything about what the duty arrangement was and what happened in the camp on March 19 to 20, although he was the Acting -Commander. The second scenario is, that he tries to exonerate himself and his men over the Imam’s death, although he knows the truth about what happened.  In either case, he cannot avoid a Commander’s responsibility over the Imam’s death.

TESTIMONY OF Dr. Suphawit Pakdichoke

Dr. Suphawit Pakdichoke , of Rueso district hospital, who performed the post-mortem on the Imam’s body, has given his findings in Court. As an expert witness, he testified that the victim’s cause of death was due to strong’ blunt force trauma’ which broke his ribcage, causing bone to puncture his lungs. He also found long abrasion marks on the body which indicated that the victim could have been dragged over a hard, rough surface. There were also bruises and wounds all over his body including his eyes, forehead and lips.

TESTIMONY OF Mrs. Nima Kaseng

The victim’s wife, Nima Kaseng, testified that a group of soldiers took her husband together with her two sons and a nephew from their house on March 19. At the time the soldiers took her husband into custody, he was in good physical health. Those arrested were first detained at the Ruesoh Police Station for about two hours before being transferred to the Muang District of Narathiwat Province where they were presented before the media for a press conference. Shortly after, they were taken to the soldier’s camp in Narathiwat. Imam Yapa and his two sons, his nephew and three other people were detained together in a police truck inside the camp. On March 21, Nima’s sons informed her that their father was dead.

The rest of the hearings will be held in the Narathiwat Provincial Court. The Asian Human Rights Commission urges all human rights defenders and concerned persons in Thailand to please attend the hearings. Details are as follows:

August 14, 15
September 29, 30
Time: 9am to 4:30pm daily
Venue: Narathiwat Provincial Court, Kokkean Subdistrict, Muang District, Narathiwat Province
Case No.: Or.Chor 9/2551

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrchk.org)

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Update
Document ID : AHRC-UAU-042-2008
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Arbitrary arrest & detention, Death in custody, State of emergency & martial law, Torture,