Somchai Neelaphaijit. Still missing, still no one punished: March 12, 2004
We will not forget.
DOWNLOAD NEW BOOK: Reading between the lines, by Angkhana Neelaphaijit (Thai version available here)
Searching for buried truth in kidnap case
Frank G Anderson/UPI Asia, 13 March 2009
“Thankfulness to authorities for expediting the case” is, in Thailand, a euphemism for frustration that little or no progress has been made to date in an investigation. That expression of appreciation also reflects the title of a book released at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on March 11, “Reading Between the Lines,” by Angkhana Neelapaichit.
The book is an account of the author’s efforts to uncover – and a shocking correspondent effort on the part of Thai authorities to keep covered – the facts behind her husband’s kidnapping and murder on June 12, 2004.
Lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit was at times a fiery orator, expressing frustration and righteous indignation at the manner in which Thai authorities – notably under the regime of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – were dealing with southern unrest. According to Somchai and victim statements, military and police were literally torturing victims to exact confessions of terrorism.
In the specific case that led to Somchai’s kidnapping by Thai police, he had been involved in representing five suspected terrorists, all of whom had been visited by Democratic Party member Dr. Kraisak Choonhavan. The suspects displayed physical traces of torture and their statements reflected that treatment. Yet the “higher authorities” involved in the case have yet to be identified.
Torture as an interrogation method also has yet to be abandoned in the kingdom’s southern region – or in fact, elsewhere. Of the five members of the Royal Thai Police who were involved in the kidnapping and probable murder, only one was convicted in the courts, of a less serious charge, and released without bail. He filed an appeal which is now three years old.
The three panelists at the FCCT on March 11 were professional and polite, yet resigned to “playing the game” in terms of going as far as they can without incurring public and official denunciation. With even Thaksin Shinawatra having maintained that police were involved in the kidnapping and murder, and indicating that Somchai was probably dead, it is difficult to imagine the many layers of corruption and lack of morality that permeate Thai society to the extent that five policemen could take an order from a superior and execute – literally and figuratively – that order.
This is at the crux of Thai cultural values, and requires serious examination by academics. When Thai society permits, encourages, solicits and protects the abuse of human rights, there is a desperate need to correct these many wrongs.
The way Thai society handles, or “processes,” criminal and civil complaints is in dire need of revision. While the Thai justice system deems itself to be highly just and unapproachable – disagreeing publicly with a court decision can mean criminal prosecution – the fact is that Thai judges, prosecutors and others down the line in the justice system are encumbered by the same constraints that prevent normal citizens from standing up.
People are afraid of being seen as outcasts, or as subject to foreign influence, or not being “real” Thais. So they conform to the established regime of what is right and proper, without introspection to determine whether or not it is really right and proper.
In the case of lawyer Somchai, for example, was it proper for the criminal court to dismiss charges against the four other police officers involved? Was it proper for the court to allow the chief defendant to be convicted of a much lesser crime and to walk out of the courtroom a free man while his appeal took place? Was it evident that all of this took place because the Royal Thai Police are an institutional part of Thai society that cannot be reformed because society itself is above reform?
Injustice around the world is insular and relatively immune from serious address. There is a generally accepted rationale, on the one hand, that individual experiences are only that, and that even if they are serious they cannot be dwelt upon.
On the other hand, there is a corresponding rationale that these serious human rights abuses – which leave so many dead, disfigured and defeated about us – are in need of solution, but not one that involves all of society. That is the heart of the matter, and in a sense, the core of the doom that may follow our current plight in global society.
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