9 August 2014
In two video clips released to the public on 2 and 3 August 2014, Kritsuda Khunasaen, who was arbitrarily detained by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), detailed her experience while in detention. She described a range of forms of both mental and physical torture. The response of the NCPO has been to accuse Kritsuda of providing false information to the public and to deny that the torture she described took place.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is gravely concerned that the NCPO has responded by dismissing Kritsuda’s account as untrue, rather than establishing an independent, transparent investigation into the conditions of her detention and others arbitrarily detained since the coup. The AHRC views the NCPO’s actions as another indication of the downward slide and deepening human rights crisis in Thailand.
On 22 May 2014, led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the NCPO took power and abrogated the constitution. During the first two months of rule by the junta, there have been severe restrictions placed on freedom of expression and political freedom, ongoing formal and informal summons to report to the junta, extensive use of arbitrary detention, the activation of military courts to process dissidents, and the creation of a general climate of fear detrimental to human rights and the rule of law.
Under the terms of martial law, which were put in place two days prior to the coup, soldiers can detain and interrogate anyone for up to seven days without having to provide evidence of wrongdoing or bring formal charges. While the junta has repeatedly claimed that those who are summoned and then held are not being detained, but are instead being offered “accommodation” and “attitude adjustment,” the penalty for not responding to the summons is possible processing within the military court system and a punishment of a prison sentence of up to two years and/or a fine of up to 40,000 baht. Detainees can be held at irregular places of detention, including permanent or temporary military bases or other sites designated as places of detention. Detention in irregular places means that the possibility for rights violations, including torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial execution is greatly increased.
While the junta has consistently refused to provide full details of the number of people detained and the places of detention, over Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a group of lawyers and human rights defenders who formed following the coup to redress human rights violations caused by the junta’s rule, compiled statistics on the one-month anniversary of the coup. TLHR noted that during the first month of rule by the junta, at least 454 persons were publicly summoned to report themselves in Bangkok, and at least 57 were informally summoned in the provinces. The full report can be read in Englishhere and in Thai here. Although Sihasek Phuangketkaew, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asserted in mid-June that there were no more detainees being held, this has not been independently confirmed.
Kritsuda Khunasaen was one of those arrested and detained under martial law shortly after the coup. She is a 27-year-old former student activist who has worked on behalf of political prisoners and their families in Thailand since the April-May 2010 crackdown by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government on red shirt protestors. She was arrested on 27 May in Chonburi when the home of a red shirt supporter with whom she worked to coordinate donations to political prisoners and other red shirts affected and their families was raided by the authorities. When she had not been released and her whereabouts were unknown after seven days, the maximum period of detention permitted under martial law, concern over her safety began to rise.
On 17 June, Kritsuda was summoned to report to the junta in Order No. 68/2557. Given that she had been arrested 21 days prior and was not known to have been released, the summons order deepened the concern about her safety. She was only released on 24 June after Human Rights Watch and domestic Thai human rights organizations raised concerns that she may have been forcibly disappeared. A day prior to her release, she appeared in a junta-produced television broadcast in which she attested to her happiness and explained that she had asked the junta to detain her longer than the initial seven days permitted under martial law. Following her release, she left Thailand and is currently in exile and seeking political asylum.
In the two video interviews released by the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy, an exile organization with which she has sought refuge, Kritsuda describes her treatment while in detention. She notes that during her detention, she was constantly blindfolded and her hands were bound. During her interrogation sessions, she was repeatedly hit, punched, and suffocated. She was unable to use the toilet or shower by herself. Instead, her clothes were removed by a female soldier, although she could hear the voices of male soldiers nearby as well. She was threatened and intimidated throughout her period of detention, and also told of the torture and assault of other red shirt supporters who were detained. She further notes that she was compelled to make the video that the Army released on broadcast television in which she attested to her happiness. The video interviews can be viewed here and here.
The NCPO swiftly responded to deny the account offered by Kritsuda Khunasen in the two video interviews. Winthai Suvaree, the NCPO spokesperson, asserted in an interview to Reuters that her account “…is 100 percent fabricated” and “We checked with the officials, and no such incidents took place.” In addition to denying the truth of her account, the NCPO has questioned the motivations behind her actions. The AHRC is aware that the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy is a partisan exile organization allied with members of the ousted Pheu Thai government. However, this is not a legitimate reason to dismiss Kritsuda’s account as untrue and the NCPO’s action to do so appears to be manipulative and cynical attempt to derogate from its responsibilities to protect human rights under international law.
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 fulfill 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 the events surrounding Kritsuda Khunasaen’s account of her torture, 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.”
The first response to an account of torture by a citizen should be protection and investigation, not dismissal and accusation. In addition to dismissing Kritsuda’s account as untrue, the AHRC notes with concern that the NCPO has blocked two news articles about this case published by Prachatai English, an independent media news website.
The Asian Human Rights Commission unequivocally condemns the coup in the strongest terms and wishes to express grave concern about the rapid decline of human rights protections it has engendered. On 5 August, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an independent investigation into Kritsuda Khunasaen’s case (The OHCHR statement can be read here). The AHRC would like to echo this call by the OHCHR and those made by other domestic and international human rights organizations. An independent, transparent investigation into the conditions of Kritsuda Khunasaen’s detention and all others arbitrarily detained since the coup would be one way in which the NCPO could begin a return to a regime founded on the principles of human rights and the rule of law, rather than their violation.