October 16, 2014
On 10 October 2014, the independent online media outlet Prachatai reported on three instances of torture of persons held in military and police custody which have taken place since the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) in Thailand (Read the entire report by Prachatai in English here and in Thai here). The three persons -- Chatchawan Prabbamrung, Kittisak Soomsri, and Bancha Kodphuthorn – were arrested by the military and police and subjected to physical and mental torture including beating, electric shock, mock death, and threats of violence. It is the view of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) that these are not isolated instances, but rather coupled with other accounts of torture since the coup, including that of Kritsuda Khunasen (AHRC-STM-151-2014), indicate a regularization of the already-entrenched practice of torture by the Thai state security forces. The AHRC calls for an independent, transparent investigation into the allegations of torture made by these three persons and a broad investigation into the conditions of detention of all those detained since the coup.
Chatchawan Prabbamrung, age 45, is a refrigeration mechanic who was arrested by soldiers on 6 July. He was held for nine days before charges were filed against him on 15 July which included premeditated murder, bombing to cause injury, possession of illegal explosives, and carrying explosives in a public place. He has been accused of shooting M-79 grenades into a Big C superstore and killing two children on 24 February during the protests of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. Prachatai reported that he alleged that, “About 50 military officers with weapons captured Chatchawan and his wife at an intersection in northern Chiang Mai Province and took them into two different vans. While traveling in the van, the couple were blindfolded and Chatchawan was threatened to confess, otherwise his wife would ‘not be safe.’ On arrival at an unknown destination, the officers tied his hands behind his back. Two men who wore masks looking like animals beat him for almost four hours. He was later brought into a basement room. In the room, an electric wire wrapped in absorbent cotton was tied to his genitals while another wire was inserted into his anus. The officer splashed water at him and switched on the electricity. When he screamed with pain, the officer covered his head with a plastic bag, suffocating him. An officer once put a pistol into his mouth. This was done to force him to answer where he hid the weapons. ” Prachatai noted that Chatchawan’s wife was also detained for several days and then released. She was not physically harmed, but was held in solitary confinement in a room without windows.
Kittisak Soomsri, age 45, is an employee of theVocational Education Commission who was arrested on 5 September. He was held for six days before charges were filed against him on 11 September which included the possession and discharge of illegal weapons and carrying weapons in a public place as one of the so-called “men in black” who committed violent acts during the April-May 2010 protests. Prachatai reported that he alleged that, “Three men captured him at his office without court arrest warrant. They also threatened his wife not to file a police complaint, otherwise the entire family would “not be safe”. He was then detained at an unknown place. The interrogation started on the first night. A bag was used to cover his head so that he could not see the face of the interrogator. During the interrogation, he was hit on the head and mouth several times. Two men sat on his stomach and legs. At bedtime, the blindfold was taken off. He was handcuffed all the time, whenever he ate, slept or went to the bathroom. These torture methods were intended to have him confess to committing the crime on 10 April 2010 and implicating others. He confessed the morning after because he did not want to be tortured any more.” On 14 October, Kittisak and four other persons accused of being “men in black” (including one woman), wrote a letter to the attorney general recanting their confessions. The four men all alleged that they were tortured to confess and all five of the accused were not permitted to contact either their families or a lawyer following their arrests (This letter can be read in Thai on Prachatai here).
Bancha Kodphuthorn, age 28, is a construction worker who was arrested on 22 July by police and soldiers. He was held for one night before robbery charges were filed against him on 23 July. Prachatai reported that he alleged that, “During the night of 22 July, several military and police officers raided his friend’s house where he was visiting. Bancha and the house owner were detained in a car and blindfolded so they did not know where they were taken. At the unknown destination, still blindfolded, he was kicked and slapped several times. When he answered that he did not know, they beat him again. After an hour of beating, he was pushed into a hole in the ground. The officers filled the hole with soil until the level reached his neck. Then he was hit with a gun. After half an hour in the hole, he was put onto the ground and beaten overnight until the morning of the next day. The torture was intended to force him to name members of a drug trafficking gang.”
The Government of Thailand acceded to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading or Inhuman Treatment (CAT) on 2 October 2007. As a state party to the CAT, Thailand is obligated to take action to prevent torture, hold perpetrators to account, and provide redress and protection to victims of torture. The AHRC has noted that the government of Thailand has consistently failed to fulfil its obligations under the convention. Rather than prosecuting torturers, it has instead pursued the victims of torture who dare to speak out, such as in the criminal prosecution of Suderueman Maleh, a survivor of torture in southern Thailand, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 2011 after he brought a torture complaint against a police officer who was later cleared of responsibility (AHRC-STM-103-2011).
Within the context of these three cases, the AHRC would like to highlight the obligations to investigate complaints of torture stipulated by the CAT. Article 12 prescribes that, “Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.” Article 13 further notes that, “Each State Party shall ensure that any individual who alleges he has been subjected to torture in any territory under its jurisdiction has the right to complain to, and to have his case promptly and impartially examined by, its competent authorities. Steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant and witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given.”
Since the declaration of martial law on 20 May 2014 and the coup on 22 May 2014, the junta has repeatedly cited vague threats to national security and an equally vague need for “reform” as the reasons to restrict the rights and freedoms of the people. None of these reasons are a justification for Thailand to derogate from its responsibilities as a state party to the CAT. In addition, the military junta has used both martial law and a series of additional orders to arbitrarily detain citizens, restrict the press, criminalize public protest, and severely restrict open public discussion of politics, all of which makes the redress of torture more difficult for victims and survivors.
The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the coup in the strongest terms and wishes to express grave concern about the continued decline of human rights protections after four and a half months of rule by the National Council for Peace and Order. The AHRC calls for an independent, transparent investigation into the allegations of torture made by Chatchawan Prabbamrung, Kittisak Soomsri, and Bancha Kodphuthorn and an investigation into the conditions of detention of all those detained since the coup. Without doing so, the NCPO will only continue to institutionalise a regime founded on the violation, rather than protection, of principles of human rights and the rule of law.
October 6, 2014
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is gravely concerned about the ongoing detention without charge of Patiwat (last name withheld) and Pornthip (last name withheld), who are being held in relation to a complaint filed against them for alleged violation of Article 112 of the Criminal Code in Thailand. Patiwat, age 23, a fifth year student in the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Khon Kaen University, was arrested on 14 August 2014 in Khon Kaen province and is being held in the Bangkok Remand Prison. Pornthip, age 25, a graduate of the Faculty of Political Science at Ramkhamhaeng University and an activist, was arrested on 15 August 2014 at the Hat Yai Airport, and is being held in the Central Women's Prison. The complaint is in relation to their participation in the performance of a play, "The Wolf Bride" (Jao Sao Ma Pa) at Thammasat University in October 2013 on the fortieth anniversary of the 14 October 1973 people's uprising. At the time of their arrests, the AHRC noted that their arrests for exercising their freedom of expression in a theatre performance was an indication of the ongoing criminalization of thought and expression in Thailand following the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) (AHRC-STM-157-2014; AHRC-STM-159-2014). Their continued detention without charge is a daily reminder of the deepening human rights crisis put in motion by the coup.
Article 112 of the Criminal Code stipulates that, "Whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years." The use of Article 112 is highly politicized and has frequently been used as a method of silencing dissenting voices, particularly in moments of regime crisis. Although this measure has been part of the Criminal Code since its last revision in 1957, there has been an exponential increase in the number of complaints filed since the 19 September 2006 coup; this increase has been further multiplied following the 22 May 2014 coup. According to information collected by the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), there are fifteen new cases pending in various criminal courts around the country and in the Bangkok military court. In this case, as well as others, the manner in which action has been taken against Patiwat and Pornthip only now, ten months after the performance of the play in question, suggests that following the coup, the past has become an open catalogue of acts and speech which can be criminalized in retrospect.
On 1 October 2014, the authoritiesrequested a further extension of their detention while they continue their investigation of Patiwat and Pornthip. The Criminal Court granted the extension. This is the sixth time that their detention has been extended by the Court. In the case of Patiwat, his first order of detention was approved by the Court on 15 August 2014, for 12 days. In the case of Pornthip, her first order of detention was approved by the Court on 16 August 2014, for 12 days. For the second and third orders of detention of both, the Court granted an additional 12 days of detention each time. For the fourth order of detention of both, the Court granted 6 days of detention, and for the fifth order of detention, the Court granted 6 days of detention for Patiwat and 5 days of detention for Pornthip. For the sixth order of detention, the prosecutor claimed to have just received the investigation file and needed time to review it, and the Court granted an extension of 12 days. This means that as of the time of this statement (6 October 2014), Patiwat has been detained for 52 days and Pornthip has been detained for 53 days. The lawyers have petitioned against the detention orders subsequent to the first order, but the Court has dismissed them each time. In addition, both Patiwat and Pornthip have requested bail three times, but the Court has denied it each time.At the next hearing, which will be held for both of them on 13 October, the prosecutor must make a decision whether or not to formally charge Patiwat and Pornthip with violation of the law or release them, either on bail while the investigation continues or with a dismissal of the complaint against them.
Shortly after the initial arrests in August, the AHRC noted in a statement that while extended periods of both pre-charge and pre-trial detention have become common in cases of alleged violation of Article 112, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Thai authorities are obligated to respect the right to temporary release.
In particular, the AHRC would like to remind the junta, the Bangkok Metropolitan Police and the Criminal Court that Article 9(3) of the ICCPR stipulates that, "Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgment." In the case of Patiwat and Pornthip, they have been denied temporary release even prior to be charged. Similar to other Article 112 cases, the Criminal Court has made this denial on the basis that if convicted, they would be subject to a heavy punishment and so are therefore likely to flee.
In a statement to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 27 September 2014, Thai Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapagorn asserted that despite the coup, Thailand remained committed to human rights and that, "Democracy must be based on respect for the rule of law. And it must be about good governance, transparency, accountability and equal access to justice." The foreign minister spoke eloquently in support of Thailand's candidature for the Human Rights Council for the 2015-2017 term and the Security Council for the 2017-2018 term. However, given the sharp decline in human rights and clear disparities in access to justice in the aftermath of the coup, of which the ongoing detention without charge of Patiwat and Pornthip for their participation in the performance of a theatre play is one example, this statement cannot be taken as sincere.
The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the National Council for Peace and Order to act with sincerity on the principles of democracy and human rights of which Foreign Minister Tanasak spoke about to United Nations General Assembly. One concrete way to do so would be to immediately release Patiwat and Pornthip and for the investigations of them and others facing prosecution under Article 112 to be dropped. The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the coup in the strongest terms possible and wishes to express grave concern about the denial of freedom of expression and the expanding witch hunt of those who express, or have expressed in the past, critical or dissenting views. To think differently than the junta is not a crime.
October 2, 2014
September 22, 2014
On 19 September 2014, the Appeal Court upheld the Criminal Court's ruling in the case of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk. Somyot was found guilty of two violations of Article 112 of the Criminal Codeand sentenced to ten years in prison on 23 January 2013, with one additional year from a prior case for a total of eleven years in prison. Somyot Prueksakasemsuk is a long-time labour rights activist and human rights defender who was prosecuted in relation to two articles published in Voice of Taksin magazine, a print publication with which he worked as magazine editor. At the time of the initial conviction, the Asian Human Rights Commission joined Thai and international human rights organizations and others concerned with freedom of expression that condemned the case as a significant blow to human rights in Thailand (AHRC-STM-027-2013). The decision by the Appeal Court upholding the initial conviction and sentence reflects and consolidates the profound crisis of freedom of expression following the 22 May 2014 coup. Following the decision by the Appeal Court, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk has indicated that he will continue the struggle in his case and will appeal to the Supreme Court.
Somyot was found guilty under Article 112, which states that, "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished (with) imprisonment of three to fifteen years." As in many other cases, the vagueness of Article 112 was used in Somyot's case by the Thai state to constrict freedom of expression, thwart the practice and protection of human rights, and silence dissenting opinions.Similar to the case of Prachatai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn (See the AHRC's campaign page here), Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was not prosecuted and found guilty for writing articles deemed to violate Article 112, but rather prosecuted for his proximity to content written by another individual deemed to violate Article 112. The prosecution argued that his work in printing, distributing and disseminating two issues of Voice of Taksin magazine which contained two articles deemed to violate Article 112 was itself an equal violation of the law as writing the articles.
The Asian Human Rights Commission is concerned about the circumstances surrounding the reading of the decision by the Appeal Court. Neither Somyot nor his family or legal team were informed that the decision was going to be read ahead of time. Given that the Appeal Court decisions are frequently completed weeks before they are read publicly, the Court would have had ample time to notify the family and legal team. This decision to not announce the reading ahead of time meant that Somyot's family and other human rights defenders could not be present to support him in the courtroom. Prachatai reported the response of Sukanya Prueksakasemsuk, Somyot's wife and a human rights defender, to this action; she commented that, "The fact that the authority didn't inform on the day that the verdict's going to be delivered is not in accordance with the rules and is not transparent. I missed an opportunity to listen to the verdict myself, especially when the court affirmed the verdict. This greatly affected him. I wanted to come and supported him, but I couldn't."
At the time of the initial decision by the Criminal Court, the Asian Human Rights Commission observed that the decision was an ominous warning to anyone involved in publishing, distributing or selling print or other media. There is not an official censorship board in Thailand that officially inspects every piece of print material before it is published, but with this case, Article 112 was established as an unofficial censorship measure. What made this particularly dangerous is that the enforcement and interpretation of Article 112 is both uneven and as indicated by this and other cases, highly political. Writers and publishers do not know that they have crossed the invisible line demarcated by the law until the police knock on their doors to take them away. In the intervening time since the initial decision, the enforcement and interpretation of Article 112 have both grown even more politicized.
The Appeal Court ruling affirming the conviction and lengthy sentence of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk comes at a time in which the number of individuals facing prosecution under Article 112 is at an all-time high in Thailand. While Article 112 has been part of the Criminal Code of Thailand since its last revision in 1957, there was a sharp upsurge in both complaints filed and prosecutions carried out under the law in the years following the 19 September 2006 coup. Another significant leap in the number of cases has occurred since the 22 May 2014 coup by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). According to information collected by Prachatai and the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), there are currently twenty-one cases under Article 112, including both those who have been convicted and those who are awaiting trial. Fifteen of these cases are new since the coup.
The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to indicate our grave concern over the growing crisis of freedom of expression in Thailand and calls for the immediate release of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk and all others detained, either following conviction or awaiting charge or trial for crimes of freedom of expression under Article 112 and related laws. Until this happens, the AHRC will continue to closely follow this and all other cases of alleged violations of Article 112 and encourages those concerned with human rights and justice in Thailand to do so as well.
The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to express grave concern about the arrest, interrogation, and harassment of four academics and three students during a public lecture on 17 September 2014 at Thammasat University in Bangkok. This is the latest in a series of actions by the authorities in the four months since the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) overturned the civilian government in a coup on 22 May 2014. These actions constrict the freedom of thought and expression of individual citizens while simultaneously contributing to the creation of a broad climate of fear in Thailand. Since the NCPO took power, the junta has demonstrated a profound lack of respect for basic human rights principles, despite their repeated claims otherwise.
On 17 September 2014, the League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy (LLTD), a student organization, had organized a lecture in their Democracy Classroom series, titled “Democracy Classroom #2: Toppling Dictatorship in Other Countries.” The primary lecture was to be given by Nidhi Eoseewong, prominent senior Thai historian retired from Chiang Mai University and public intellectual, with commentary by Janjira Sombutpoonsiri (Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University) and Chaowarit Chaowsangrat (Faculty of Arts, Thammasat University) and with Prajak Kongkirati (Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University) as moderator. The LLTD had requested and been granted permission by the university to hold the event.
One day prior to the event, General Pallop Fuangfu, the Commander of the Control Division of the 2nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment in Pathumthani province, where the Rangsit campus is located, sent a letter to the deputy rector of the university asking that he liaise with the LLTD to cancel the event. In the letter, General Pallop commented that, “…the aforementioned lecture may affect the resolution of the nation’s problems. In addition, at present, in order to protect against the increased arising of divisions or different political opinions and perspectives, every entity is cooperating in support of the reconciliation and harmony of people in the nation” (unofficial AHRC translation). In response, the university locked the door of the lecture room for which they had originally granted the students permission to use. The students then decided to use an open air space on the first floor of the building instead, and many people crowded into the space to listen.
Before Nidhi Eoseewong had completed even thirty minutes of his lecture, at approximately 5:30 pm, the authorities approached him directly and told him to stop speaking. Then, he, as well as Prajak Kongkirati, Janjira Sombutpoonsiri, Chaowarit Chaowsangrat, and three of the student organizers, were ordered to go to the local police station in Khlong Luang. The seven individuals were then interrogated during which time they were denied access to legal counsel. After several hours, at approximately 9:30 pm, all seven individuals were then released without charges being brought.
By not charging the seven individuals with the violation of any laws or orders, the authorities can still attempt to claim that this was not an arrest, but was rather a discussion to “create understanding,” as they have in cases of arbitrary detention following the coup. However, the lack of formal charges does not change the meaning of this incident as a form of intimidation and violation of the rights of the seven individuals to freedom of thought and expression. At the conclusion of the interrogation, the authorities announced that in the future, topics and outlines of the content of academic events needed to be submitted for approval beforehand.
The incident at Thammasat University is not an isolated one, but is rather part of a broader pattern of intervention by the junta in public events organized by students, academics and human rights activists. The intervention is carried out by the local military unit in a given area, which then cites the authority and wishes of the NCPO as the reason for their intervention. While the interventions have been described by the authorities as “requests for cooperation,” those who have made the requests have the power of guns, military courts, and executive power behind them. These are not “requests” but are rather a form of intimidation and harassment. The authorities have the sole power to decide who can speak when, where, and on what topic. If their wishes are not followed voluntarily, then they will act with the power they have under the gun, the military court (AHRC-OLT-006-2014), and executive power, to compel citizens to follow their wishes.
The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the coup and the ongoing criminalization of thought and speech by the National Council on Peace and Order. The AHRC calls on the NCPO in the strongest terms possible to cease intervening in academic and other public discussions and to cease harassing students, academics, and citizens who think differently. To think differently than the junta is not a crime. Finally, the AHRC encourages all concerned with human rights and justice to closely monitor the situation in Thailand.