The arrest of a woman who publicly spoke out against the military over her relative who was tortured to death by the army clearly exposes the difficulties faced by the families of torture victims, as outlined in a Human Rights Watch statement.
On 27 July 2016, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement saying that “Thai authorities should drop trumped-up criminal proceedings” against Naritsarawan Kaewnoppart, who was arrested for publishing the details of her uncle, conscripted Private Wichian Puaksom, who was tortured to death in a military camp in 2011.
Around 8:30 am on 26 July 2016, Naritsarawan was arrested at her workplace in the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security by eight plainclothes officers from Makkasan Police Station. Naritsarawan told Prachatai that she did not receive any summons from the authorities before her arrest.
At Mueang Narathiwat Police Station, representatives from the Cross Cultural Foundation and the International Commission of Jurists accompanied and supported her. She was released at around 1:30 am, and travelled back to Bangkok following her release, using her job at the Ministry as a guarantee that she will not flee.
“I want to prove to Thai society that the Thai judicial process is still there to uphold righteousness and justice. No matter how rich or influential you are, you are going to be defeated by justice and the law. I want to prove this,” Naritsarawan told Thapanee Ietsrichai of Channel 3 after her release from Narathiwat Police Station. She added “I can even sacrifice my life for justice [for my uncle]”
The warrant for her arrest was granted back in February and was personally filed by a major in the 4th Army Region, which is the unit responsible for the torture of Naritsarawan’s uncle. At the time the torture occurred, the major who sued Nartisarawan held the lower rank of lieutenant. His name has not yet been revealed.
In the statement, Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said “Thai authorities have also frequently retaliated against those reporting alleged human rights violations by filing lawsuits accusing critics of making false statements with the intent of damaging the officials’ reputation.”
Furthermore, Adams is quoted in saying “The Thai police’s efforts to intimidate and retaliate against the outspoken relative of a victim of rights abuse is no less than an endorsement of torture.”
The statement also discusses how in May 2016, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha promised to make torture a criminal offence, especially considering that to this day, there have been no successful prosecutions against security personnel for abuses.
The Human Rights Watch statement described parts of the torture of Private Wichian Puaksom, which included stripping him to his underwear and dragging him over rough concrete surfaces, beating him for several hours, and pouring salt on wounds to increase the pain. They also wrapped his body in white cloth, bound his hands, and read him funeral rites before forcing him to sit on ice and endure further beatings. He died in hospital four days later.
The nine soldiers received military punishment of detention for 30 days or less of, but never faced serious criminal charges. The family was granted 7,000,000 baht as compensation.