Category Archives: torture

Torture still a dirty secret in Thailand

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(การทรมานยังเป็นความลับที่สกปรกในเมืองไทย)

A little over a week ago, the Bangkok Post reported that a special inquiry unit under Thailand’s Justice Ministry had asked the public prosecutor to lodge charges against six police officers for allegedly torturing a man in their custody.

The police in Ayutthaya, near Bangkok, hooded Ekkawat Srimanta and beat him all over his body to force him to confess to a robbery that he did not commit. Then they repeatedly electrocuted his genitals and groin.

Unlike many victims of police torture in Thailand, Ekkawat survived. And unlike most, he was released shortly afterward and admitted to hospital. The next day, photographs of his damaged body were published in major dailies. Senior officers rushed to his bedside, pretended that they cared if he lived or died, and made phony promises to look into things.

All that was five years ago. What happened since demonstrates the utter failure not only of the government of Thailand but also of its society to come to terms with the blight of torture, or do anything much about it. Continue reading

Who isn’t bombing Rangoon

When news spread that in the early hours of Oct. 13 a passenger vehicle had exploded in suburban Rangoon killing seven, the first response of some people was that it must have been another in the latest series of bombings to rock the former capital.

It turned out that the blast was the result of a natural gas cylinder crammed between the driver and tray in the manner of most fuel-converted trucks and vans in Burma, to the dismay of those squeezed in alongside.

But it was not long before the bombs started again. On Saturday, a small one went off at a football ground in Yankin, causing minor damage. On Sunday, another in Shwepyithar killed a man who, according to the state media, was building the device.

These followed a number of other incidents in September that left at least seven persons wounded. Bombs also earlier exploded at the main railway station, and near the high-class Traders Hotel and the town hall.

There is a lot of talk going around about who might be behind this new campaign. Some exiled opponents of the regime suggest, as in previous years, that it could be elements of the security forces. Others suspect renegade activists who have lost patience with both nonviolent resistance and the jungle-based insurgencies of old.

One person who wasn’t involved is U Myint Aye. That’s because he’s in jail accused of planting a bomb at the branch office of a government organizing body in July. It’s an odd turn of events for the 57-year-old chairman of Burma’s only out-and-out domestic rights group, Human Rights Defenders and Promoters. Continue reading

Asia needs a new rule-of-law debate

(Der Rechtsstaat in Thailand)

The rule of law has been getting talked up in Thailand a lot since the former prime minister’s wife, Pojaman Shinawatra, lost a criminal case before a special bench of the Supreme Court, and her husband skipped both town and bail prior to a hearing against him too.

Amid the many editorials and headlines (Krungthep Turakit above: Thaksin, Pojaman flee), academic Michael Connors suggested that the verdict against Pojaman could bode well for a more robust rule of law. Newspaper columnist Chang Noi was effusive, declaring the verdict “a manifesto on behalf of the law.”

Thaksin even got in on the act himself, describing those pursuing his family through the courts as having “no concern for the legal system … or the universal rule of law” and claiming that he and his family are victims of “continuous injustice.”

While the former policeman’s complaints jar with his track record of getting things done any which way, the cases against him and his family do raise issues about how the rule of law needs to be understood and debated in Asia.

One of the main problems besetting talk about rule of law in the region is that it continues to be dominated by writers and thinkers living elsewhere in the world, where courts, police and administrative offices work more or less as expected.

These persons usually take separated powers, constitutionalism and representative government for granted. Some publish commentaries on high-profile cases that are in fact relevant to the society as a whole, because their law and bureaucracy are relatively coherent and systematic.

Others go into the finer points of whether or not it is possible for judges to consistently and impartially apply law, and whether the rule of law should be governed by morals or procedures.

But little if any of this is relevant to people in most parts of Asia. Continue reading

No evidence please, we’re Burmese police

Almost a year has passed since the day Burma’s military regime suddenly upped fuel prices without telling anyone, triggering off a series of small protests that led to some bigger ones, and finally, the really big ones that for a few days in September captured the world’s headlines.

No one is any the wiser about the reasons for the price hike, or at least, why it was sprung upon the unsuspected public that particular August morning. Among the theories, a few people caught up in political intrigues have claimed that it was a plan to flush out and grab re-emerging dissidents prior to the referendum on a new Constitution, which was held amid the cyclone ruins in May.

Whether they planned it or not, the authorities did net a large number of opponents in the days, weeks and months after the rallies. Most were kept in illegal custody for further days, weeks and months. Some are still missing, but the cases of many others are now seeping into the courts, and what they reveal is just how far officialdom in Burma has strayed from any notions of legality in dealing with dissent.

Take the case of three men, Kyaw Soe, Kwalpi and Tin Htoo Aung, detained at the end of October. The three were taken to the torture chambers at the central prison, where they were left in the hands of military intelligence officers until the middle of January. Only then were they handed over to the police, whereupon their case was registered in court.

The men were charged with a number of crimes for supposedly having had contact with illegal groups outside the country and having distributed anti-government pamphlets at the time of the protests.

So far there is nothing striking about any of this. Sadly, illegal imprisonment, torture and heavy criminal charges are typical to the cases from last September. What is more interesting is that despite all that, the police had nothing to show for it when they brought the case into the court. Nor did they care. Continue reading

The mechanics of murder

The killing of Yapa Koseng in a vehicle parked at an army base in southern Thailand has attracted interest among news media and human rights groups, particularly since a doctor speaking at a postmortem inquest hearing at the end of June indicated that his fatal injuries could have been caused only by savage torture.

However, it was the testimony of another person that day which laid bare the mechanics of the homicide, or how, in the words of a United Nations expert on extrajudicial killings, police and soldiers in Thailand “get away with murder.”

That person was Major Wicha Phuthong, then acting commander of the unit holding Yapa, whom other detainees claim was present during the assault: a claim that the officer has of course denied.

According to Major Wicha, police picked up Yapa together with two of his sons and three other persons “probably” around 3 p.m. on March 19. They were to be held under martial law provisions for up to seven days without being brought to a court. Anticipating their transfer to a neighboring province for further inquiries, Wicha had them kept in the police van that carried them to his unit at Suantham Temple, in Narathiwat.

Yapa didn’t make it through seven days. The 56-year-old died sometime during the night of March 20 or 21, a broken rib stuck in his lungs. (Hundreds attended his funeral, above.)

But don’t ask Major Wicha about that. Continue reading

Sri Lankan torture case holds lessons for Thailand

Gerald Perera

A court in Sri Lanka has given a shocking verdict in a case of police torture. Both the judgment and chain of events that led to it contain many important lessons for people in Thailand.

Police in Wattala picked up Gerald Perera [pictured above] on June 3, 2002. They took the 39-year-old to their station, strung him from a beam and beat him with iron rods and wooden poles for about an hour in an effort to get him to confess to a murder.

They had the wrong man. Gerald knew nothing of the crime. His was a case of mistaken identity. But by the time that he was released he had suffered renal failure. Only protracted and expensive medical treatment saved his life.

Both Gerald and his wife had a strong sense of justice and great courage. Despite the obvious danger, they sought help to lodge complaints against the police. They asked to be compensated for breaches of Gerald’s constitutional rights, and initiated a criminal inquiry.

In April 2003 the Supreme Court found that Gerald had been beaten to within inches of his life while in custody. It said that the police accounts of what had happened were unsatisfactory and noted that three officers had admitted to using force during the arrest.

In awarding Gerald a record payout, the court said that it had “no doubt whatsoever” that he had been tortured. It added that by not rushing him to hospital the police also were guilty of committing cruel and inhuman treatment.

Buoyed up by these findings, Gerald prepared to testify again, this time in the case that the prosecutor had lodged under Sri Lanka’s anti-torture law, which carries a mandatory seven-year jail term.

He never spoke. Continue reading

Thailand’s most organized criminals are police

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According to the United Nations, the Royal Thai Police are organized criminals.

That, at least, is the inference to be drawn from looking at its Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which was adopted in 2001 and which defines an organized crime group as involving at least three people acting in concert over a period of time “with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences… in order to obtain… a financial or other material benefit.”

It would be hard to overstate the extent to which Thailand’s police fit this definition. A browse through a few newspapers of recent weeks alone reveals as much. Continue reading

We uphold rule of law, etc., etc.

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“I wish to point out that Thailand has already acceded to the Convention against Torture and we fully intend to adhere to our commitments and obligations under the Convention… Any case of alleged wrongdoing or abuse by state authorities or personnel will not be taken lightly and will be fully investigated…”

– Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Ambassador of Thailand, UN Human Rights Council

Watch video (go to Right of Reply – Thailand)

(Get a different view: Constistently counter-productive)

Consistently counter-productive

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Extracts from a new report: Human Rights under Attack, by the Working Group on Justice for Peace, Thailand

One policy that has been consistently counter-productive is the government’s reliance on poorly trained, ill-disciplined para-military forces and civilian militias. Although they have a long-standing history in Thailand, since 2004 their strength in the South has been increased massively. There is a confusing multiplicity of groups – the paramilitary rangers, an interior ministry force known as the Volunteer Defence Corps, several loosely supervised village volunteer forces and an unknown number of smaller sectarian militias – added to the regular army, police and border patrol police. The largest armed force in the South is a civilian militia consisting of Village Defence Volunteers recruited under the Internal Security Operations Command and the Village Protection Force recruited under Queen Sirikit’s direction tasked with protecting Buddhist communities. Continue reading

March 12, 2004

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It has been four years since Somchai Neelaphaijit disappeared; four long years of heartbreak for his family, four years of unanswered questions.

Somchai did not disappear by accident, but by force. Yet despite wide publicity and persistent efforts to hold the culprits to account, Thailand’s criminal justice system has utterly failed a person who in life had not failed it.

Somchai was a lawyer with a keen sense of justice, and a good one at that. He took on cases that others wouldn’t touch, cases that didn’t earn him any friends in high places. He successfully defended accused terrorists and separatists. He set up a free legal aid service and received a national award in acknowledgement of his work.

Prior to disappearing, Somchai met with five young men in police custody who said that they had been tortured. According to letters that he prepared on their behalf, they had been kicked, electrocuted and urinated upon. One had been hanged from the hook of a toilet door and hit on the head with a lump of wood.

On March 11, 2004 Somchai publicly accused the police of torture and said that he would take the case to the highest levels. Coming from him, this was no idle warning. Someone took it seriously. Continue reading

Police to stand between themselves & their targets

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Under a visionary new scheme, victims of police torture and the families of persons killed and abducted by police in Thailand are also to get protection from… yes, other police! They include Angkhana Neelaphaijit (above), wife of abducted human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit, who has said that she would rather fend for herself. Continue reading

A policy of not solving human rights cases

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In recent weeks Thailand’s media has attentively reported on the arrest of some paramilitary police who are alleged to have abducted and framed tens, perhaps hundreds, of people.

The Border Patrol Police officers set up most of their victims on charges under which the accused could not get bail. Some they released after receiving ransom. One of these, a middle-aged woman, in January set off the alarm after she, her son and two others had been freed. Since then, over 60 more have complained to the Rights and Liberties Protection Department. At least 180 inmates have reportedly sought for their files to be reopened.

Victims have described how they were held in groups and tortured. According to one, she and her partner [above] were taken to a bungalow where they saw at least twenty more people tied up, some hooded; a few with smashed teeth and bruised faces. Another has claimed that she was electrocuted while pregnant, despite pleading for her baby. She gave birth in remand, awaiting a trial in which she was acquitted of any crime.

A few years ago, a case like this would have been accompanied by loud calls for it to be moved outside of the police force and into the hands of the Department of Special Investigation. But such calls have been noticeably absent this time around. Continue reading