Torture victim trying to obtain justice now counter-charged by Police General

Mr. Sudeerueman Maleh, former client of disappeared human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, has been charged with giving false statements to the authorities about being tortured into a confession after trying to obtain justice against police officials. The case in question concerns the theft of weapons at Pileng Military Camp, Narathiwat province, and the alleged torture that took place at Tanyong police station. 

After filing a complaint of torture against several police officers in March 2004, accepted by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) in January 2007, Mr. Sudeerueman is now being counter-charged by Police Major General Chakrathip Chaichinda (Black Case No.2161/2552). The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Mr. Sudeerueman on charges of giving false statements to the DSI and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) contrary to Sections 173, 174(2), and 181(2) of the Criminal Code.  

If found guilty under any of these sections, Mr. Sudeerueman could face several years in jail, while the police officials accused of torturing the defendant and others into confessing to the theft of weapons at Pileng Military Camp on January 4 2004, can remain in office. 

This case raises crucial concerns about the rights and protection of victims and witnesses who dare to testify against police officers in a system where the police, according to the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), “have the power to intervene and harbour a culture of impunity”.

When released after two years in prison on charges of theft of weapons and attempted murder, both cases later dismissed, the torture complaint was accepted by the DSI at the beginning of 2007 and later submitted to the NACC in November the same year. Following the complaint, Mr. Sudeerueman, along with two others, were put under the special Witness Protection Programme provided by the DSI.

However, even under the “protection” of the DSI, one of the alleged torture victims, Mr. Abdullah Arbukaree, has already disappeared under mysterious circumstances in Narathiwat in December 2009. His whereabouts are still unknown and according to the Justice for Peace Foundation founded by Mrs. Angkhana Neelapaijit, the DSI took no special interest in the case, even though the disappearance took place under their special protection.

It has been held that the weapons theft case is related to the case of Mrs. Angkhana’s missing husband Somchai Neelapajit, who disappeared when trying to obtain justice for Mr. Sudeerueman and the other torture victims in that case. On March 11, 2004, one day before his disappearance, Mr.Somchai called for the release of his clients, stating because of “the act (of torture), the alleged offenders were forced to confess as demanded by the police officials”.

On June 29, 2011, on information from the CrCF, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) published a press release about the Sudeerueman case, calling for observers to “provide support for victims of torture, whose rights are now further violated by being counter-charged for attempting to secure justice”.

The witness hearing for the plaintiff and defendant took place at the Criminal Court, Ratchadaphisek Road, Bangkok, June 30-July 1 and July 5-6 respectively. The defendant was the first witness to take the stand for the defence on July 5 and was asked to outline the arrest and the torture in detail. 

The defendant stated that following his arrest on February 20, 2004, he was detained for several days by local police at Tanyong police station, where he and others were subjected to various forms of torture, such as near asphyxiation with a plastic bag that was tied on top of a cotton hood. Mr. Sudeerueman further mentioned being kicked and slapped, with many of blows especially directed to the ears. An electric wire was also used to administer electric shocks to the defendant’s legs and toes in order to obtain confessions on various charges ranging from cutting down trees in relation to the theft of weapons, to the actual theft and even the attempted murder of a police official.

The part of the defendant’s testimony that was challenged by Pol. Maj .Gen. Chakrathip concerned the statements given to the DSI and NACC on the January 16 and 17, 2007, and also a statement to a subcommittee of the NACC on November 5 the same year.

The defence emphasized that the defendant never said that the plaintiff tortured him, only that he was on the premises and that there could have been a misunderstanding due to the fact that Mr. Sudeerueman cannot read and write Thai and hence many times needed a translator. Furthermore, the DSI and the NACC used different pictures when the defendant was asked to point out the numbers of the officers who tortured him. Therefore, the numbers of the suspected police officers were not unique to one person, supporting the fact that the defendant did not point out the plaintiff as one of the torturers.

The lawyer for the plaintiff continued to repeat the question; “Did the plaintiff torture you?” The defendant confirmed that the plaintiff was on the premises but not that the plaintiff tortured him. However, both in his testimony to the DSI and the NACC, it was stated that the plaintiff did torture him. Mr. Sudeerueman said that he never said anything confirming that the plaintiff tortured him and that he does not know why the testimony said that he did.

The second witness for the defence, Mr Piyawate Kingkate, one of the DSI officials who were appointed as special investigators in the case, confirmed that Mr. Sudeerueman did not said anything to the DSI about the plaintiff torturing him, but only that Pol. Maj .Gen. Chakrathip was in the meeting room at Tanyong police station, the night of February 22-23, 2004.

The next witness called by the defence was Mr.Virat Kullawanich, another DSI officer, also appointed as a special investigator for the alleged torture. He emphasised that Mr. Chakrathip had been pointed about by the defendant; however, Mr. Sudeerueman had not testified that the plaintiff had taken part in the actual torture.

Already in July 2009, Police General Bhanupong Singhara filed a similar lawsuit of false statement against the defendant; however, this case was dismissed due to a lack of evidence. (Black Case No. Or 2161/2552). Observing the trial, human rights lawyer Sor Rattanamanee Polkla of the Asian Human Rights Commission and Community Resource Centre Thailand, pointed out that since the NACC has not sent all its papers regarding the investigation, satisfying the burden of proof is made even more complicated for the lawyer of the plaintiff. 

The pattern of counter-charges against victims who dare to file a complaint of torture has a severe negative impact on obtaining justice for torture victims and is a setback in the fight against impunity among state officials. As stated by the Asian Human Rights Commission, the fact that an “independent” agency, such as the DSI, fails in obtaining justice and protecting victims of torture shows the strong influence of powerful officials in special investigations.

The judgment in the Sudeerueman case is scheduled to be delivered at 9 am, August 10, 2011.

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