Military say Deep South rights advocates sued ‘to defend country’s honour’

The Thai military have defended their decision to file legal complaints against human rights advocates in the restive Deep South, saying that they have to defend the honour of the country, while the embattled rights activists refuse to be cowed.

Col Pramote Promin, spokesperson for the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4, on Friday, 11 June 2016, rebuked the statements of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Patani Raya for Peace and Development (LEMPAR) after the two organisations condemned the military for filing complaints against three prominent human rights defenders in Thailand’s Deep South.

ISOC Region 4 on 17 May 2016 filed complaints against three human rights defenders for 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, accusing them of sharing false information about military-conducted torture through a computer system.

The three are: 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. They are accused of criminal defamation and violation of the 2007 Computer Crime Act.  

Col Pramote said that after an investigation to verify the torture report, the military could identify only 18 of the 54 alleged torture victims documented in the report, adding that the detention reports on the 18 and other evidence handed to ISOC Region 4 provide no solid evidence of torture and ill-treatment at the hands of the authorities.       

“ISOC Region 4 has continuously attempted to cooperate with the agencies which conducted the report to investigate the matter, but did not receive any cooperation. So it was an intentional distortion of information using the victims as tools,” said Col Pramote.

ISOC Region 4 said that in order to solve the dispute by peaceful means, it is necessary to let the courts establish the facts in dispute, adding that the three will be prosecuted in accordance to the law if they are found guilty of destroying the honour of the nation and state officials.

On Sunday, 12 June, one of the three embattled activists, Anchana Heemmina, posted a status on her Facebook account, saying that she will continue with her work in advocating human rights in the restive Deep South.

She urged people to come up with mechanisms to protect human rights defenders in the conflict areas because the judicial institutions and other related agencies in the country usually ignore allegations of torture and ill-treatment made against the authorities.

Anchana added that the legal complaints against them are a test for her and her two fellow activists, but they will not back down.

In an interview with Prachatai, Anchana 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.”

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.