On 28 June, the Southern Bangkok Civil Court ordered the Royal Thai Police to pay compensation to Ritthirong Cheunchit, a man who was beaten and suffocated with plastic bags by policemen in 2009 to make him confess to a crime he did not commit.
From left to right: Ritthirong and Somsak Chuenchit. (Source: Cross Cultural Foundation)
According to the Cross Cultural Foundation, a long-time facilitator in the plaintiff’s legal journey, the Court ordered the police to pay 3.38 million THB to compensate the victim for the damage done to his reputation, health and mental well-being.
The compensation includes annual 7.5 percent interest payments on the principal between 28 January 2009 to 10 April 2021, bringing the total up to 6,844,500 THB. The Royal Thai Police have also been ordered to add an additional 5 percent interest each year until the full amount has been paid.
The 7.5 percent interest rate was limited within 10 April 2021 in line with the change of the interest regulation.
The plaintiff's request to delete his name from the criminal record was denied, however. The Court found that the request did not meet the requisite qualifications, it being normal practice for the police to record the names of arrested suspects in their investigations.
Filed on 26 May 2020, the lawsuit stemmed from an incident that occurred on 28 January 2009, when Rithtirong was detained by Prachinburi police while being on his way home from the cinema, and forced to confess that he snatched a gold necklace.
At the police station, a woman wrongly identified Ritthirong as the person who had taken her necklace. Ignoring his assertion of innocence, the interrogating officers beat the handcuffed youth and then suffocated him with plastic bags in a bid to determine where the necklace was hidden. When Ritthirong chewed holes in the bags to breathe, the interrogators put more bags over his head.
They also told Ritthirong that if he died, they would hide his corpse in a far-away wilderness. Terrorised, the youth decided that the only way to escape was to admit to the theft and claim that the necklace was at a shop he frequented.
After beating him some more, the police then accused him of being on drugs and sought evidence with a urine test, which later proved to be negative.
The incident left the 18-year-old student and acoustic guitar player with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and he has since required ongoing medical treatment. Ritthirong’s father, Somsak, has been seeking justice for his son in the courts ever since.
Prior to the 28 June ruling, he made little progress. Only one police officer involved in the incident, Pol Lt Col Vajiraphan Photirat, has been punished. In 2018, he was sentenced to 16 months in prison and fined 8,000 baht fine for interfering with an investigation with intention to frame guilty. He has already been paroled.
In its 28 June ruling, the Court noted that the police intentionally tortured the victim in a manner that would allow them to avoid legal repercussions. According to the medical examiner’s report, Ritthirong’s injuries consisted of minor physical wounds that healed within 3 days. This, in conjunction with with the plaintiff’s testimony, led the court to find that police actions were against the universal human rights declaration and Thai constitution.