On 14 Aug, the Campaign Committee for Human Rights sent a letter to Minister of Justice Pol Gen Pracha Phromnok, asking that the Ministry urgently provide protection to witnesses in the extrajudicial killing case in Kalasin in which police officers were convicted but walked free on bail.
Six police officers at Muang Police Station in Kalasin were prosecuted for murdering Kiattisak Thitboonkrong, 17, while in their custody during the war on drugs campaign under the Thaksin Shinawatra government in 2004.
On 30 July this year, the Criminal Court found five out of the six police officers guilty. Three of them were given death sentences, two were sentenced to prison terms of life and 7 years, while the other was acquitted. However, the convicted police officers were immediately granted bail pending appeal.
In its letter, the human rights organization expresses its concern over the safety of witnesses in the case, as the witness protection provided by the Department of Special Investigation was discontinued once the court verdict was delivered. It fears that those involved in the case might be subject to further intimidation, threats and harm by the convicted officers.
The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission has also urged the Thai authorities to provide continued protection for Kiattisak's family and the witnesses, ‘to ensure that the police do not attempt to threaten, harm or kill those persons out of revenge or in order to pervert the course of justice in the appeal process.’
The AHRC says that this murder was the first to be prosecuted of the murders of 28 individuals by police from the same station during and after the so-called ‘war on drugs’.
According to its statement on the case:
At this time, all five police officers are out on bail pending appeal. This is despite the fact that three police officers were convicted of premeditated murder and hiding a corpse and were sentenced to death, one police officer was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison, and the fifth police officer was convicted of abusing his authority to aid in protecting his subordinates from criminal prosecution and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment.
In large part, the verdict in this case was secured due to the courageous actions of Kiattisak’s relatives and witnesses to the crime. Kiattisak’s aunt, Pikul Phromchan is a human rights defender and one of the leaders of the Kalasin Relatives of Deceased and Disappeared Persons due to the Actions of State Officers in the War on Drugs. She has campaigned nationally and internationally for justice in her nephew’s case as well as in those of others. In September 2011, she made an oral statement at the 18th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council calling for accountability in Kiattisak’s case and those of others in Kalasin province (Pikul’s statement can be read here: ALRC-PRL-003-2011). Sa Thitboonkrong, Kiattisak’s grandmother, and another witness, Aranya (last name withheld) witnessed the actions of the police officers in this case and provided necessary evidence during the trial.
All three witnesses were under witness protection during the seven years of this trial. However, at the time of the reading of the conviction on 30 July 2012, all three women were informed that as the case had come to a close, their witness protection was being discontinued. This is despite the facts of both the significance of this case as a challenge to impunity and the gravity of the convictions and sentences handed to the five police officers found guilty. In this case, the conclusion of the trial makes the need for protection of the witnesses involved more, not less, urgent.
The AHRC and partner organisations have for some years highlighted the absence of systematic, effective witness protection in Thailand, including in the current case (AHRC-UAU-029-2011) as well as the case of the disappearance of Somchai Neelaphaijit. The DSI, which is tasked with witness protection, whether due to lack of capacity or lack of will, has been unable to consistently and professionally protect witnesses in cases. Although a law for the protection of witnesses exists, when protection is provided it is very often poorly designed and implemented, ad hoc and piecemeal. Cases of this sort highlight the need for a comprehensive witness protection programme, which Thailand has the means, both in terms of finances and personnel, to implement if the political will exists.
For an earlier report on the lack of effective witness protection in Thailand issued by the AHRC’s sister organization, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, see http://www.article2.org/mainfile.php/0503/.
The AHRC also asks the public to write letters to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation Tharit Pengdith and Minister of Justice Pol Gen Pracha Promnok to urge them to provide adequate witness protection to the three persons at risk.
The AHRC has written separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and to the regional human rights office for Southeast Asia concerning the case.
SAMPLE LETTER (by the AHRC):
THAILAND: Continued need for witness protection in Kalasin murder case
I am writing to express my concern over the protection of key witnesses in the murder of Kiettisak Thitboonkrong in Kalasin province in 2004. I was pleased to learn of the landmark decision to hold his murderers to account in the Criminal Court decision of July 30, 2012. Yet I was dismayed to learn that since the trial had concluded, the DSI was discontinuing the protection of key witnesses in this trial, namely his aunt, Pikul Phromchan, his grandmother, Sa Thitboonkrong, and a third witness, Aranya (last name withheld), even as the convicted police were released on bail pending appeal.
Despite the conviction of five of the six police officers in this case, given that the police officers are out on bail, the need for protection of witnesses in this case is even more urgent. In addition, given the broader significance of this case for combatting impunity for state violence in Thailand, it is essential that the witnesses do not face retribution for their courageous action defending human rights.
The case of the murder of Mr. Kiettisak Thitboonkrong is the first one of the 28 killings in Kalasin in which the Department of Special Investigation has brought criminal charges against the six police officers allegedly responsible for his murder.
I call on you to immediately restore the full witness protection of Pikul Phromchan, Sa Thitboonkrong, and Aranya. Particularly in cases where state officials are the perpetrators, it is essential that witnesses and involved parties are protected, so that the cycle of impunity is broken, rather than further consolidated.
I look forward to your prompt action.
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:
1. Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra
c/o Government House
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District
Fax: +66 2 288 4000 ext. 4025
Tel: +66 2 288 4000
2. Mr.Tharit Pengdith
Department of Special Investigation
128 Chaeng Wattana Road
Fax: +66 2 831 9888
Tel.: +66 2 831 9888
3. Mr. Pracha Promnok
Minister of Justice
Office of the Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Justice Building
22nd Floor Software Park Building,
Chaeng Wattana Road
Pakkred, Nonthaburi 11120
Fax: +66 2 502 6734 / 6884
Tel: +66 2 502 6776/ 8223