On Wednesday (August 10), torture victim Sudeerueman Maleh, former client of missing human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, was sentenced to two years in prison. Why? The Thai police do not only enjoy impunity against gross human rights violations, but are also able to use it in order to make it a crime for victims to even file complaints of human rights abuses.
Mr. Sudeerueman was held guilty of “giving false information concerning a criminal offence to an inquiry official, in order to maliciously subject any person to the measures of safety” contrary to Article 173 and 174 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to two years in prison.
The particular case regarded the torture and forced confessions of the gun robbery at the Pileng Military Camp and connected murder attempt of a police officer in Narathiwat province seven years ago.
Back in 2004, in what was going to be his last case, famous human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit called for the release of Mr. Sudeerueman and the other victims tortured into confession at the Tanyong police station in Narathiwat province. One day later, on March 12, 2004, Mr. Somchai was abducted and has not been seen ever since.
The apparent connection between the disappearance of Mr. Somchai and the gun robbery case illustrates the danger facing human rights lawyers and defenders trying to obtain justice against state officials. When the charges of gun robbery and attempted murder were dismissed and the defendants released, they were taken under the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) Witness Protection Programme. However, despite this “protection” one of them, Mr. Abdullah Arbukaree, disappeared under suspicious circumstances in 2009.
A torture charge was filed by Mr. Sudeerueman in 2004 and accepted by the DSI in 2007 and further submitted to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) the same year. Instead of obtaining justice, Mr. Sudeerueman was counter-charged by Police Major General Chakrathip Chaichinda who claimed that he had been framed by the defendant.
In a testimony from Mr Piyawate Kingkate, one of the DSI witnesses in charge of the case and to whom the defendant’s testimony was reported, emphasised in court that the defendant never mentioned the plaintiff’s name, only that he had been present on the premises at the time of the torture.
However, the senior judge Mr. Dechathorn Thewadech and his junior assistant Mr. Siriratchada Mettamitraphong chose to believe the NACC officer’s testimony instead, claiming everything reported to the DSI was false information. They also believed in the plaintiff’s claim that he was not present in Narathiwat when the torture took place, even though Pol. Maj. Gen. Chakrathip did not have any concrete evidence to support this claim.
Finally, the senior judge held that the defence did not bring all the photos that the DSI officers had mentioned in the hearings. He also added that the DSI witness did not explain all the parts of the defendant’s testimony.
For these unfounded reasons, the judges held Mr. Sudeerueman guilty of maliciously giving false information to inquiry officials and sentenced him to a 2 year long prison sentence.
After the conviction, several human rights lawyers had to work hard in order to make sure that Mr. Suddeerueman would be granted post-conviction bail before the end of the day. The bail was set to 200,000 Baht and the human rights organization Cross-cultural Foundation (CrCF) had to buy a so called Freedom Insurance for 14,000 Baht in order for the insurance company to put in 200,000 Baht to the court.
This process should have been the responsibility of the DSI and the Rights and Liberties Protection Department (RLPD) of the Ministry of Justice. However, in this case they failed to take action, which was why CrCF and the human rights lawyers had to go through so much trouble.
In the evening, Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet from CrCF confirmed that Mr. Sudeerueman had finally been released from the court detention cell around 6pm on Wednesday.
Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, human rights lawyer from the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been observing the development in this case and after the judgment she said; “The problem is that we did not prepare for this. The judge saw all the document and he spoke and treated the defendant with compassion. We felt relaxed and did not worry”. However, as this case clearly demonstrates she adds, “We should prepare ourselves in every case as we cannot believe in justice to be the outcome”.
The development of this case into a counter-charge from a high-rank police officer and finally conviction of the victim will most certainly have a deterrent effect and decrease the already few numbers of victims of human rights abuses who dare to press charges against the police.
Sadly, the unjust decision of this case is only the tip of the iceberg of thousands of similar cases of gross human rights violations and the endless numbers of unreported human rights violations involving state officials.
The Asian Human Rights Commission has strongly condemned this judgment, describing it as “a statement of utter contempt for the rights of all victims of abuses at the hands of state authorities in Thailand”.
The only thing the plaintiff has proved beyond reasonable doubt in this case is that impunity of high-rank officials continues to dominate the courtrooms. Once again a police officer did not only escape from conviction, but managed to turn the case in his favor and punish the victim once again, this time for trying to obtain justice and standing up for human rights.