The authorities in Khon Kaen probably did not like Kamol Laosophaphant. His campaign to expose corrupt council dealings over state railway land, among other things, reportedly had a group of police ready to beat him up just last year.
The 49-year-old delivery contractor told his family that he was worried for his safety. In January he took out a life insurance policy but did not let up his fight against the neighborhood “people with influence.”
Kamol, as it happened, had cause for concern. On Feb. 7 he went to the Baan Phai station to lodge one of a dozen criminal complaints that he was preparing against local officials. He never came back to his house only a few hundred meters away.
Kamol’s wife (pictured above holding his photo) and brothers say that the family had contact with him until around 11pm. His wife missed a call from his phone shortly after. Then the line went dead.
They lodged a complaint with the station the next morning, but it was not taken seriously. The day after that, they made another to the Crime Suppression Division. Yet although his car mysteriously turned up outside a hospital some 20 kilometers to the north a few weeks later, four months on they still don’t know where he went.
Unsurprisingly, neither the provincial police nor those from Bangkok have made any headway. Instead, they have used the same tried and tested methods to derail the case as in other instances where fellow officers have been accused of committing crimes.
Speaking some time after Kamol disappeared, the deputy provincial chief stated that there was no evidence to implicate his boys and that he doubted that Kamol’s criminal complaints were sufficient motive for kidnapping. Instead, he said, the police had pursued the idea that Kamol had run off with a woman, and then that he might have been seized with the need to dump his car and go to Cambodia.
This sort of silliness is floated whenever a troublemaker goes missing in Thailand. After lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit vanished in 2004 he was said to have run off because he argued with his wife. Later it was shown that the cause was not a marital dispute but a group of at least five men on a Bangkok road, four of them allegedly members of the same police division to which Kamol’s family complained.
But troublemakers like Somchai and Kamol are not typical disappeared persons. Their families consist of people who are reasonably well off, keep documents, can handle computers and government officers alike, and talk to the media.
By contrast, the families of most victims consist of people who haven’t finished school, who farm, sell vegetables and drive taxis for a living, people who are browbeaten by scornful investigators and readily threatened by the perpetrators and their agents. Their loved ones too may be troublemakers of a different type, perhaps having been accused of selling drugs or stealing motorcycles before disappearing, a type unlikely to attract public sympathy.
These people’s stories, the overwhelming number of stories of kidnapping and killing carried out at the behest of state officers in Thailand, rarely get told, let alone documented or investigated.
This is how come Pornthip Rojanasunant has said that her forensic science institute gets around 300 unidentified bodies a year from only the four out of Thailand’s 76 provinces in which it is mandated to work. It is how come when she went looking for Somchai’s remains at a dump she didn’t turn up his bones but did come across others’.
And it is how come when Pornthip proposed establishing a missing persons’ centre for the likes of Kamol Laosophaphant the police obstructed her plans at every step, for so long as there is no institutional response to their crimes, they are not really crimes at all.
Forced disappearances in Thailand are not a problem particular to the south of the country, not a peculiarity of internal conflict as they are in some parts of the world. Rather, they are a nationwide feature of what can be labeled as orderly lawlessness.
Orderly lawlessness is not lawlessness as usually understood. It is not anarchic, not law’s total absence but rather its diminishing to part time status; its delimiting from place to place and person to person, the expedient cutting and pasting of its norms and procedures, rather than the ensuring of its consistent adherence. Orderly lawlessness sometimes calls upon the police to behave according to law and sometimes contrary to it. At other times it leaves them to decide for themselves.
That’s why Kamol has not been seen since February and why his disappearance in Khon Kaen was just as probable as that of someone in Narathiwat, Bangkok, Kalasin or Tak, and also why no government of Thailand any time soon will bring a stop to the forces that made it possible: because like torture, forced disappearance is not an ailment but a symptom.
All this, of course, is academic to Kamol’s family. They need answers today. They need supporters for their campaign, people to keep his name alive as best they can. They need lawyers too, lawyers willing to try things that haven’t been done before, like lodging a case under section 90 of Thailand’s criminal procedure code, which allows for complaints to the courts where someone has been illegally detained.
Section 90 has been used with good effect recently, but only in cases of acknowledged custody, not those where the authorities have denied holding a person. Still, as habeas corpus has in some common law countries been stretched to include victims of disappearances last seen with police, it could be worth a try. And as Kamol is gone anyhow, what is there to lose?
See further: Man is missing after complaining at police station (AHRC)
คืบหน้าการหายตัวไป สมาชิกยามเฝ้าแผ่นดิน ขอนแก่น (ASTV – Video)