Military files complaint against Deep South rights defenders over torture report

Human Rights Watch has condemned the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) for filing a complaint against three human rights defenders in the Deep South for exposing torture by the military of Muslim Malay minority members. An ISOC spokesperson said the filing is suitable since “there is no problem with suing those who aim to destroy the country”.
 
ISOC Region 4 has accused three human rights defenders of defaming its organization after they published a report, released earlier this year, on the torture of ethnic Muslim Malays in the Deep South in 2014 and 2015.  
 
On Thursday, 9 June 2016, Human Rights Watch issued a statement demanding that ISOC Region 4 withdraw its complaint against three Deep South human rights defenders, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet (Director of the Cross Cultural Foundation), Somchai Homla-or (member of the Law Reform Commission of Thailand), and Anchana Heemmina (President of Duay Jai group). The three were the editorial team of a report revealing 54 cases of torture, which is double the number of cases in a similar period prior to the 2014 coup.
 
According to the statement, ISOC has accused the three of defamation under the Criminal Code, and spreading false information under the controversial Computer Crimes Act, because they allegedly shared false information about military-conducted torture through a computer system. The complaints were filed on 17 May 2016 in Yala, but the three have not yet been contacted by the police. 
 
“The government should order these criminal complaints withdrawn and do what it should have done in the first place: seriously investigate the report’s allegations of torture.” said Brad Adams, Asia Director for Human Rights Watch.
 
However, the spokesperson of ISOC Region 4, Gen Pramote Promin, denied the allegations. He told Prachatai that the rights defenders aimed to discredit ISOC and the country since “they sent the report to various international organizations before it was officially published, given the fact that the report was published just before the Universal Periodic Review, held in Geneva.” 
 
“Are They Thai?” Pramote asked. “They always do this, discrediting our organization and Thailand, so we have to respond. In my own view, there is no problem with suing those who aim to destroy the country.”
 
Pramote confirmed that ISOC had investigated the 54 cases in the report, and found that the allegations are ungrounded, adding that ISOC always strictly follows the due process of law. He also condemned the stories of torture in the report, saying that they are all falsified since they do not provide the real names of most of the informants.
 
Anchana Heemmina, however, gave Prachatai a totally different perspective. She said that her organization needs to protect informants’ privacy, especially in the Deep South where martial law provides the authorities with the power to arrest and detain suspects without court permission. She also rejects ISOC’s investigation, saying it is illegitimate to let the authorities investigate the cases themselves.
 
“What we have reported is fact. Recently, a private in the army was reportedly beaten to death. The military cannot claim that torture never happens. Other organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have reported the same things we have,” said Anchana. “Although this may undermine the authorities’ reputation, resolving the issues will benefit the peace process in the Deep South.”
 
Anchana added that the mentality of the authorities makes torture more likely to happen because, firstly, they believe that they are the guardians of national security. Secondly, they claim that they are protecting innocent people. Thirdly, because they trust their intelligence reports, they believe that all suspects were without doubt involved in the separatist movement. 
 
“When they think like this, they think that they are justified in using violence,” said Anchana.   
 
The controversial report was compiled by the Cross Cultural Foundation and the Duay Jai Group. Evidence comes from in-depth interviews with victims of alleged torture and ill-treatment during pre-charge detention by the Thai military. 
 
The report discusses at least 18 cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment since 22 May 2014, when Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha staged the coup d’état. In 2015 alone, there were 15 recorded cases, whereas a total of 17 were recorded in 2014. This is a dramatic rise over previous years which saw seven cases in 2013, two in 2011, and three in 2010 (no information is available for 2012). 
 
All the cases involved ethnic Malay residents of the conflicted areas who identified as Muslim. Various methods of torture were employed, including physical and psychological torture. The report says torture was applied to force victims to confess to crimes related to the insurgency. Most of the torture reportedly took place during interrogation. 
 
In some cases, Muslim victims were barred from praying and threatened with dogs. The perpetrators allegedly insulted Islam in front of the victims. One victim said he was arrested, forced to strip naked, and beaten in a local mosque.
 
Officials often use the following torture methods to extract confessions: binding hands tightly with rope, choking, face dunking, kicking, punching, beating in the stomach, beating with a cloth-wrapped wooden bat, head-butting against the wall, and electric shocks. Some methods do not leave a mark: hooding, exposure to extremely high or low temperatures or light to darkness for extended periods of time, death threats, threats to harm detainees' family members, forced feeding or injecting drugs which lead to loss of consciousness.
 

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