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THAILAND: Briefing note on a torture case raised by Mr Somchai Neelaphaijit before his disappearance: new attempts by police to threaten witnesses

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has taken up the investigation of the torture case of Mr Makata Harong, Mr Sukree Maming, Mr Manasae Mama, Mr Suderueman Malae and Mr Abdulloh Abukaree, the last five clients of Mr Somchai Neelaphaijit before his disappearance. The five men were accused of stealing guns from the Pileng Army Camp, Narathiwat province on January 4, 2004 and were charged with 'attempt to kill'. The five men were allegedly severely tortured and threatened by police officers while in detention. A day after Mr. Neelaphaijit voiced strong public criticism of the torture perpetrated by police officers he disappeared on 12 March 2004. Later on, the public prosecutor decided not to lodge the gun robbery case in court and finally the Narathiwat court dismissed the case. At present, only Mr Sukree Maning is under detention charged with 'attempt to kill' and he's now waiting for the Supreme Court decision.

Since then, the DSI has taken up the investigation of the torture allegation and has provided witness protection for Mr Manasae Mama, Mr Suderueman Malae and Mr Abdulloh Abukaree. The DSI presented their investigation report to the Office of the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC), which subsequently called for more than 10 police officers to be investigated.

In November 2009, one of the witnesses, Abdulloh Abukaree, who had been under the DSI's witness protection programme, returned to his home in Narathiwat Province on the occasion of an important religious date and he was abducted on 11 December 2009. He has disappeared until now, and nobody knows about his fate and whereabouts.

JPF (Justice for Peace Foundation) is concerned that police officers are trying to threaten the witness and have been interfering with the case by attempting to convince relatives of the victims to drop the case, which they have refused to do. This case presents a crucial example for Thailand's determination to end impunity, which necessitates the police officers to be brought to justice.

Although there have been welcoming attempts by the police force to resolve the case, the witnesses continue to be under great threats from the police officers while under a heavy protection program.

Moreover, JPF has received information that one of the witnesses is now being charged with making a false statement of torture by Pol. Maj. Gen. Chakthip Chaijinda and Pol. Gen. Panupong Sing-hara-Na-Ayuthaya. The police officers have charged Mr. Suderueman Malae with having made a false statement. The plaintiffs filed the complaint with the Bangkok Criminal Court, which is now in the process of calling for evidence. At the same time, the plaintiffs have requested to obtain access to the investigation report from the NCCC, which they have not yet made available.

Again, this constitutes another tactic by police officers to abuse their powers and threaten victims in order to protect themselves. According to Mr Suderueman, these two police officers were among the group who allegedly tortured the five men. As a result of these developments, Angkhana Neelaphaijit submitted a letter to Mr. Wicha Mahakhum, of NCCC, to request the NCCC not to send the testimony of the defendants contained in the investigation report to the plaintiffs due to the sensitivity of information and for the protection of the defendants. The first hearing of the case took place on 9 November 2009 at the Criminal Court, Ratchada, Bangkok. Upon request from the DSI, the defendants will be represented by a lawyer from the Lawyers' Council of Thailand. The court had postponed many times and the next court hearing will take place on 1 November 2010 at 9am at the Criminal Court, Ratchada, Bangkok.

JPF is gravely concerned about the security of the defendants, their relatives as well as the lawyer involved in the case and therefore plans to observe the trial. We would therefore like to call on the international community to raise these concerns with the Thai government and particularly the Royal Thai Police to ensure the safety of the defendants and fair process. Trial observations by the international community are most certainly welcome.

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