The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is deeply concerned that four out of five torture victims represented by missing Thai lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit remain in custody, while the police officers allegedly responsible for their torture continue in their posts. The five men, who were accused of involvement in terrorist activities, were allegedly heinously tortured earlier this year by Thai police. When their lawyer, Mr Somchai, approached the authorities with allegations of torture, he was abducted from his car, and has not been seen since. Five police have been charged in connection with Mr Somchai’s disappearance, but they have not been charged with kidnapping, and the state authorities claim to have no knowledge of his whereabouts. (For details on his case see FA-06-2004, UP-14-2004 and UP-26-2004. See also two related statements, AS-07-2004 and AS-16-2004.) A high-level team sent to investigate the allegations of torture has since confirmed they are true.
AHRC urges you to call for the release of all the victims, provision of proper physical and mental medical care to redress the damage caused by the torture, and the arrest of the alleged torturers. It also urges all concerned persons to call on Thailand to ratify to the UN Convention against Torture.
Victims: 1. Makata Harong (49), 2. Sukri Maming (37), 3. Manase Mama (25) 4. Sudirueman Malae (23), 5. Abdullah Abukaree (20)
Alleged perpetrators: Police officers of Tanyong subdistrict provincial police station, Narathiwat province
Dates: February 23-26, 2004
The five accused were arrested on 23 February 2004 and tortured in connection with violence in the south of Thailand. They were accused of raiding the Narathiwat Rachanakarin army camp on January 4; Makata Harong was accused of being a member of an insurgent group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), who hired the others to work with him.
It is reported that although when brought to court 48 hours after their arrest the men complained of being tortured, the judge did not ask any questions about this or order a medical inquiry. On March 4, the lawyer for the men, Mr Somchai Neelaphaijit, sought a court order that they be taken for physical examination, alleging that they had been tortured. His application included the following remarks:
“While under police custody and during the interrogation conducted at the provincial police station of Tanyong subdistrict, the 4th Suspect was blindfolded by police officer(s) and physically assaulted; strangled and choked, hand-tied behind his back and beaten with pieces of wood on the back and head, suffering some head wounds. In addition, he was also hanged from the toilet door with a piece of rope and was then electrocuted with a piece of fork charged with electrical currents, on the back of his torso and right shoulder. As a result, the Suspect had to make a confession.”
After extracting the forced confessions, the police charged the men with a range of offences relating their alleged rebellion against the state.
On March 11, one day before he was forcibly taken from his car in metropolitan Bangkok, Mr Somchai prepared a letter on the case, which he submitted to at least five government authorities. The letter was recently published by the Thai Working Group on Human Rights Defenders, in a collection of materials on the disappearance of Mr Somchai. A full translation of that letter is below. The types of torture described by Mr Somchai, including beating sensitive parts of the body and electric shocks, indicate that they are most likely the work of experienced professionals who have engaged in such practices many times before.
On March 26, a group of senators sent a team to meet with the five victims, which found that the allegations were true. However, members of the team were clearly reluctant to talk about what they had uncovered. The normally outspoken deputy director of the Central Forensic Science Institute, Dr. Porntip Rojanasunan, refused to give any interview, and was reported to be looking unwell. Dr Pradit Charoenthaithavee, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, said afterwards that:
“I dont want to give more details particularly on the issue related to administration. If I am killed or abducted, who will take a responsibility? Before being transferred to a special prison, the 5 suspects told the court that they were severely tortured by the police but the court did not ask for any detailed information on that torture and send them to receive any medical treatment.”
Mr Pradit added that one of the victims had been beaten until his ribs had broken.
On May 18 the Criminal Court released the five men after state prosecutors failed to file charges against them within an 84-day statutory limit, citing insufficient evidence. However, the police immediately rearrested four of them on separate charges of conspiring to murder police officers at Tak Bai district police station, with only Abdullah Abukaree going free. The four men who have been rearrested are now being held in prison in Narathiwat province, and are obtaining legal assistance from the Law Society of Thailand, which is filing a suit against the police officers alleged to have tortured the men.
After he was released, Mr Abdullah Abukaree spoke to the media about his torture, which occurred over a span of three days:
“While being questioned, I was kicked, slapped and punched. They yelled at me and told me to confess that I took part in the camp raid. I didn’t know anything about it, so I denied it
When I denied involvement, I was tied to a chair and someone in the group [of interrogators] poked my body with a live electric wire. It was very painful. At those moments I wanted to die. I never felt pain like that before.”
Despite public recognition that the men were tortured, and the initiation of legal action on behalf of the men by the Law Society of Thailand, there has been no discussion about their getting physical and psychological treatment and compensation for what they have suffered. Nor has there been any talk of bringing the alleged torturers to justice; the police have also denied any wrongdoing. Thailand recently committed to accede to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel and Inhuman Treatment or Punishment, but under current domestic law, the perpetrators of torture can be charged only causing grievous bodily harm and malfeasance in office.
Although torture is believed to be widespread in Thailand, a culture of silence has for many years kept the issue from public discussion. There is no domestic organisation campaigning on the practice of torture in the country, and lawyers, journalists and others have for years shied away from the topic for fear of the consequences, dramatically illustrated in the case of Mr Somchai. The five accused police officers in his case have been charged only with theft and coercion, and there is a strong fear that they will be acquitted of even these charges; witnesses are due to be heard in his case on August 9. The government has denied any knowledge of what happened to him, however, the Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh accidentally stated in parliament that Mr Somchai had lost his life.
All of this takes place against growing martial law powers and serious decline of rule of law in the south of Thailand, in which newly arrested “terrorist suspects” are being kept under military detention for one week before being turned over to the police. Such conditions are only likely to result in a dramatic increase in the incidence of torture and related rights violations.
LETTER BY MR SOMCHAI ON BEHALF OF THE FIVE TORTURE VICTIMS
March 11, 2004
Re: Calling for inquiry
Enclosed Document: The First Petition on Detention of Suspects
The Muslim Lawyer Club of Thailand received a complaint from relatives of the suspects’ alleged rebellion during the recent violence in the 3 southern provinces of Thailand, on 4 January 2004, directly related to national security. The suspects are Mr. MaKata Harong (the first suspect), Mr. Sukri Maming (the second suspect), Mr. Abdullah Abukaree (the third suspect), Mr. Manase Mama (the fourth suspect) and Mr. Sudirueman Malae (the fifth suspect). All suspects were imprisoned at the Criminal Court. The details are attached herewith.
My team and I went to see the five suspects detained at the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) and at the Metropolitan Police Training School Academy. We found that all suspects were severely assaulted and forced to confess while they were detained at the provincial police station of Tanyong subdistrict, Narathiwat province. The details are as follows:
1. The first suspect was blindfolded. He was kicked on his face and mouth. The police stepped on his face after thrusting him to the floor. They also urinated on his face and into his mouth. Then, they applied electrical shocks to the body and testicles of the suspect 3 times.
2. The second suspect was blindfolded. He was kicked all over his body and forced to lie down. The police later slapped his face with shoes and urinated on his face.
3. The third suspect was blindfolded. He was kicked all over his body. The bases of his ears were slapped. He was handcuffed behind his back and his feet were tied. The police used electrical shocks on his body and particularly on his back.
4. The forth suspect was blindfolded. He was handcuffed behind his back and strangled. His head was broken because of severe beaten. The police hanged him by his head from a cell door. He was hit on his body and shocked with electricity.
5. The fifth suspect was blindfolded. He was slapped on his face and mouth with his shoes. The bases of his ears were also slapped. He was hit on his stomach and shocked with electricity several times.
These serious tortures forced all suspects to confess, as the police demanded. Suspects were assaulted and threatened. They were not allowed to meet their relatives and more importantly, were not able to meet a lawyer during the investigation. They were deprived of their basic rights as suspects.
Obviously, the suspects were forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. These are overstatements by inquiry officials. The detention of the suspects in the police station and the torture were an abuse of investigative power.
These actions were incompatible with criminal law. They have directly deteriorated the judicial process.
My team and I have opposed the custody of the suspects under the inquiry officials, and currently, the court has ordered the transfer of all suspects to a special prison in Bangkok. I am willing to bring you to examine the suspects in order to get the truth.
I would like to present the truth to you. I truly hope that there will be further investigation into the abuse of power and torture of the suspects by inquiry officials. And finally, I sincerely hope that there will be improvement in the treatment of suspects in the future.
President of the Muslim Lawyer Club of Thailand
Please write to the Prime Minister of Thailand to urge that the four victims still in custody are released and the perpetrators of torture are brought to justice.
To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER
Dear Mr Prime Minister,
Re: Alleged torture of five accused at Tanyong subdistrict provincial police station, Narathiwat province
I am deeply concerned at reports that five men, Makata Harong (49), Sukri Maming (37), Manase Mama (25) Sudirueman Malae (23) and Abdullah Abukaree (20) were severely tortured by police of the Tanyong subdistrict provincial police station, in Narathiwat province, from February 23 to 26, 2004. According to their lawyer, Mr Somchai Neelaphaijit, the men were beaten, urinated upon, and given electric shocks by the police officers. I understand that the allegations were on March 26 verified by a high-level team sent to investigate by the Thai Senate.
I am also deeply concerned that one day after writing a letter detailing his allegations, the lawyer representing the accused Mr Somchai was himself abducted and his whereabouts to date remain unknown to his family and the public. This is despite five police officers having gone on trial in relation to the case. It is the responsibility of the state to come up with a satisfactory answer regarding what has happened to Mr Somchai, and I trust that the matter has your full attention.
I understand that four of the five men tortured have been rearrested under separate charges, and are currently in prison in Narathiwat province. I urge you to take the steps needed to see them released from custody without further delay, and provided adequate physical and psychological treatment and compensation to redress the grave ills committed against them by state agents. I also urge you to take the necessary steps to see that the perpetrators of torture are arrested and punished for their wrongdoing.
In this regard, I am disappointed to note that Thailand has not ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel and Inhuman Treatment or Punishment, and nor does it have a domestic law that prohibits torture under which the perpetrators in this case could be punished. I understand that your government has recently committed itself to joining the Convention, and I urge you to ensure that this is done without delay, and to take the necessary steps to see it implemented in Thailand, in order to prevent recurrences of such grave violations of human rights.
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:
Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District,
Fax: +66 2 282 8631
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:
1. Mr Pongthep Thepkanjana
Minister of Justice
Office of the Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Justice Building 22nd Floor
Jangwatana Road, Parkket
Fax: +662 502 6699
2. Mr Purachai Piumsombun
Minister of Interior
Office of the Ministry of Interior
Fax: +662 226-4371
3. Professor Saneh Chamarik
National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
422 Phya Thai Road
Pathurn Wan District
Fax: 662 219 2940
4. Professor Theo van Boven
Special Rapporteur on the Question of Torture
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
Fax: +41 22 917-9016
5. Mr. Leandro Despouy
Special Rapporteur on the Independence of judges and lawyers
OHCHR-UNOG, Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
Tel: +41 22 9175727
Fax: +41 22 9179006
6. Mr. Fernando Mariño Menendez (Chairperson)
Committee Against Torture
OHCHR-UNOG, Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
Tel: +41 22 917 9260
Fax: +41 22 917 9022
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)