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Thailand must prosecute officers for Imam’s killing

Thai authorities should investigate and appropriately prosecute a junior officer implicated in the torture and killing of a Muslim cleric in 2008, Human Rights Watch said today. The case is a major test of the Thai government’s commitment to justice for military abuses in embattled southern Thailand.

On September 21, 2015, the National Anti-Corruption Commission announced that it had found Sub-Lt. Sirikhet Wanitbamrung responsible for beating 56-year-old Imam Yapa Kaseng to death while the imam was detained at the 39th Taskforce Unit in Narathiwat province in March 2008. The commission recommended Sirikhet face both disciplinary and criminal action.

“Imam Yapa’s death is a test case for the Thai authorities and army on whether they are willing to punish abusive troops for serious human rights violations,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “No more cover-up and delay – the new commission findings demand an immediate response.”

Thailand is obligated under international treaties to which it is a party to investigate and appropriately prosecute torture, custodial deaths, and other alleged serious violations of human rights. These obligations apply at all times, regardless of the political or security situation in the country. On the basis of the commission report, the army should expel Sirikhet and turn him over to the police for investigation and appropriate prosecution. The Thai army should also conduct a broader investigation into the case of Imam Yapa for possible disciplinary and criminal action against other soldiers and officers who might be responsible for the torture and killing, and for any cover-up of criminal offenses.

Detainees in the southern border provinces are especially vulnerable to serious abuses during pre-charge detention, Human Rights Watch said. Thai security laws allow the military to hold detainees for up to 37 days without any effective safeguards against rights abuses, including access to lawyers and family members.

The torture and killing of Imam Yapa highlights the broader problem of the Thai government’s counterinsurgency operations. Although all soldiers in the southern border provinces are required to carry a code-of-conduct booklet produced by the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), many former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were tortured by interrogators, including soldiers both in uniform and in civilian clothes.

The Thai army should immediately ensure the safety of all detainees; provide urgent medical care to all who sustained injuries during arrest or in detention; allow timely access to legal counsel and family members; and launch a full investigation into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

Thai security forces in the southern border provinces continue to commit abuses with effective impunity from prosecution, Human Rights Watch said. The Thai government has yet to successfully prosecute any security personnel for abuses against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the insurgency. There is no credible and effective mechanism to help investigate complaints from ethnic Malay Muslims concerning abusive, corrupt, or inept officials.

Human rights in Thailand’s southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla have eroded steadily as a result of insurgent attacks against civilians and heavy-handed responses by the security forces. More than 6,000 people have died in the violence since January 2004. The majority of victims are civilians from both the ethnic Malay Muslim and the Thai Buddhist communities.

“As a priority, the Thai government needs to overhaul the counterinsurgency strategy that encourages abuses and then fails to provide effective redress for victims,” Adams said. “By relying on repressive measures to battle rebel forces, the Thai authorities have created a fertile ground for the insurgency to expand, precisely the opposite of what they intended.”




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