Commander in fatal beating of draftee involved in earlier torture

The army officer commanding the 6 soldiers who beat to death an army recruit in the Deep South was promoted to his post despite the fact that he was involved in the fatal torture of a Deep South insurgent suspect in 2012.   

The BBC Thai reported on Friday, 8 April 2016, that Gen Teerachai Nakwanich, Chief of the Royal Thai Army, said that the army has transferred Lt Col Somkhit Khongkhaeng, the commander of the 152nd Infantry Regiment, six of whose personnel are involved in the beating of Privates Songtham Mutmat and Chatphisut Chumphan, army draftees at Phayak Military Base in Yala.

According to the Bangkok Post, another unnamed sub-lieutenant has also been transferred following the beating which led to the death of Pvt Songtham.

The transfer order was issued after the Army announced earlier that the six, which include Sub-Lieutenant Phattanat Loetchaikun, two other non-commissioned officers and three privates, will be imprisoned. The sub-lieutenant will be imprisoned for 30 days, whereas the five other will face 45 days.

Although Lt Col Somkhit is not listed as a suspect directly involved in the beating, he was transferred due to the fact that he was the commander of the perpetrators.   

The BBC Thai further reported that according to the Muslim Attorney Centre (MAC), in 2012 when Lt Col Somkhit was still a Captain, he was involved in torturing At-hari Sama-ae, a Deep South insurgent suspect, to death.

The MAC reported that in 2012 Lt Col Somkhit was involved in arresting Deep South insurgent suspects, including At-hari, in Sa-e Subdistrict of Krong Pinang District in Yala. At-hari died in custody one day after his arrest.

The Provincial Court of Yala in June 2012 ruled that from the surrounding evidence and testimony from other suspects arrested at the same time, At-hari suffered a haemorrhage from a severe beating while in custody. The court dismissed the claim of the security officers that At-hari was injured from hitting the hard surfaces of rocks and trees as he was trying to escape.    

Despite the ruling, the officers allegedly involved in the beating of At-hari have not faced any criminal charges and Lt Col Somkhit, then a Captain, was even promoted after the incident.

Throughout Thai history, state officials have perpetrated torture and enforced disappearance and never been punished. Part of the reason is the lack of any law which criminalizes torture and enforced disappearance despite the fact that Thailand is a party state to the Convention against Torture (CAT). In fact, some officers who committed these crimes were promoted while civilians who spoke out were punished.

According to Tyrell Haberkorn, an expert on violence and human rights violations in Thailand from the Australian National University, policies that usually lead to such violations are ones that create grey areas for state officials.

In the case of the restive south, Haberkorn told Prachatai that the grey area comes from the special security laws in force in the region, which basically allow a period of detention without charge from seven to thirty days. They also allow detainees to be held in a non-official place, such as a military camp or a temple. The families of detainees do not know where they have been taken and do not know where to ask about them. Lawyers also do not have to be given access. The detainees basically are not given access to anyone.

In June 2011, Wichian Puaksom, 26, a conscript in the Deep South province of Narathiwat, died after alleged brutal torture by about 10 soldiers.

An investigation by the 4th Army Region found that Wichian was severely tortured by other soldiers and his superiors after he was accused of running away from military training.

The Army report said that a number of soldiers at the request of Sub Lt Om Malaihom on 1 June 2011 stripped Wichian down to his underwear and dragged him over a rough cement surface before repeatedly kicking him with military boots and beating him for several hours.

The report added that the soldiers applied salt to the wounds of the torture victim to increase the pain and wrapped his entire body with a white sheet, tying his hands together as for a corpse and reading the funeral rites, before engaging in another round of beating.

After suing the Ministry of Defence, the Royal Thai Army and the Prime Minister's Office for malfeasance, Wichian’s family was given 7 million baht in compensation for their loss. However, up to now, none of the accused soldiers have been officially prosecuted for criminal offences.