Charges against human rights defenders still stand

Despite an earlier agreement, the military has not withdrawn its complaints against three human rights defenders who exposed torture in Thailand’s Deep South.   

On 20 June 2017, a lawyer representing Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director of the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF); Somchai Homla-or, Advisor to the CrCF; and Anchana Heemmina, President of the Duay Jai group, found that the military has not withdrawn its complaint  against the three human rights activists.

Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4 filed complaints against the three human rights defenders in May 2016, accused them of defaming ISOC by publishing a report, released in 2016, on the torture of Muslim Malays in the Deep South in 2014 and 2015.

On 7 March 2017, Col Pramote Promin, Deputy Spokesperson for ISOC Region 4, said the military was withdrawing criminal defamation charges against them, adding that a joint committee would be setup to verify accusations of human rights violations in the region and to come up with mechanisms and frameworks to prevent abuses of human rights.

According to Surapong Kongchantuk, Chairperson of CrCF “this case is of great strategic importance to demonstrate academic works and human rights works as people’s rights of public participation under the Constitution. The people have rights of participation in providing information and monitoring of human rights situations.”

He added that the report was made possible by support from the United Nations.

“Some of the victims have enough courage to file complaints or lawsuits against the government officers as an attempt to bring perpetrators to justice. However, many torture victims are still living in fear and not willing to make a complaint or file a case,” Surapong stated.

The report described at least 18 cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment since 22 May 2014, when Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha staged a coup d’état. In 2014 there were 17 recorded cases and 15 in 2015, a dramatic rise compared to 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 in the conflict areas who identified themselves as Muslim.

In the violence-plagued southernmost provinces of Thailand — composed of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat and four districts of Songkhla — the authorities can detain citizens without charge for up to 37 days under the Emergency Decree and Internal Security Act. Special security laws have been in force in the region for more than a decade.

Complaints were filed against 48 military officers and 13 police officers for committing torture and ill-treatment, but no officers have yet been charged.

Anchana Heemmina (2nd from left, front role), Pornpen Khongkachonkiet (3rd), and Somchai Homla-or (4th), at the press briefing with the representatives from ISOC Region 4 at Sukosol Hotel, Bangkok, on 7 March 2017 (file Photo)