Thai military cracks down on allegations of torture

The idyllic south of Thailand has been the site of brutal conflict and alleged torture for over a decade. [Dan Searle/Flickr]

In Thailand, three human rights activists face several years in prison after revealing details of torture perpetrated by the military. They are charged with insulting the army. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Anyone standing up for human rights in Thailand cannot expect an easy life. Three activists that compiled a report that criticised the country’s armed forces are finding this fact out the hard way.

In February, Somchai Homla-Or, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Anchana Heemmina produced a 50-page-long denouncement of the army’s activities in the south of the country, where torture has been used to forcibly extract confessions. In the 54 cases they documented, it was primarily Muslims that were targeted.

Now, the activists are being threatened with charges of defamation and cyber-crime, which could carry prison sentences of five years and fines of over 300,000 Baht (about €7,500).

Allegations of torture by the army have been a constant since the conflict between Muslim separatists and the Bangkok central government first erupted in the south of the country at the beginning of the last decade.

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The National Revolution Front (BRN), the most powerful but certainly not the only group active in the area, was founded in 1963 along Pan-Arab socialist lines, but has since recalibrated and follows more of a militant-Islamist agenda. The Thai government has so far been unable to find any answer to combat the bloodshed that has been raging for over a decade, in which over 6,200 people have lost their lives.

The three authors of the report accuse members of the army of systematically torturing political opponents and resistance fighters ever since the government declared a state of emergency back in 2005.

A 30-year-old man from the Pattani region reported that he was paid a visit by soldiers while having dinner with friends. They broke into his house, dragged him into the street and the men, who were 13 in  number, beat him.

Another victim, a 28-year-old, was accused of taking part in the 2012 Yala bombing; officials gagged him with a rope, put a plastic bag on his head and nearly sufocated him. “If I don’t confess, I die,” they told him.

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The report documented methods of torture that ranged from waterboarding and “foot roasting” to religious torture where people were forced to eat “impure” food. Psychological methods, such as threats of rape and murder, were also alleged.

Sexual torture was, according to the report, also used systematically. One 29-year-old was reported to have endured a four-day-long torture marathon, in which female officers pressed their naked breasts to his face in order to humiliate him, while subjecting his genitals to electric shocks.

When the report was published on 10 February, noted Thai human rights activist Somchai Homla-Or said that it “is not the intention of the report to discredit the power of Thailand’s security forces”. Instead, the aim was primarily to address violations by individual soldiers and to prevent the conflict in the south from being stirred up by continued unlawful conduct by the armed forces.

The military saw it very differently.

Within 24 hours, a spokesperson for the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) accused the activists of having willingly fabricated the testimonies and threatened them with legal action. General Banpot Poonpien also accused them of producing the report only to gain access to foreign money.

According to Amnesty International, the three activists are under permanent surveillance by the Southeast Asian country’s military.  Anchana Heemmina has been visited several times at home and her place of work by unknown people. The men were dressed in civilian clothing, took pictures of Heemmina’s mother and warned her against using social media.

Until 26 July, the three must check in at Pattani’s police station. Amnesty has called for more public pressure on the Thai government in order for them to drop the charges against the three.

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