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(New York) – Thai authorities should promptly and impartially investigate the alleged torture of suspects in military detention, Human Rights Watch said today. To prevent further abuses, the government should immediately transfer all civilians detained at military facilities to officially recognized civilian places of detention.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives at a meeting with his economic cabinet at the Army club in Bangkok, on September 3, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

“The Thai government’s mistreatment of civilians in military custody is rapidly piling up,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government needs to respond to these allegations of torture with a serious investigation rather than perfunctory dismissals.”

The case of Prathin Chanket, 60, a former border patrol officer, is the latest alleged mistreatment in military custody. Prathin told his lawyer that after soldiers arrested him in Khon Kaen province on November 21, 2015, he was taken to a local army camp for two days before being transferred to an undisclosed army base. He said military interrogators slapped his face and kicked his legs to extract information and force him to confess to making lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) comments and being involved in plots against the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta. They alleged that Prathin was seeking to assassinate Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha and sabotage the “Bike For Dad” cycling event to be hosted by the government on December 11 to commemorate the King’s birthday.

Prathin said that while at the army base, officials mostly kept him blindfolded and did not allow any contact with the outside world. His whereabouts could only be confirmed when the army handed him over to the police on November 26. The authorities paraded Prathin and another suspect in the same case, Nathapol Nawanle, 26, in front of cameras at a press conference. The Bangkok Military Court ordered the two placed in pretrial detention at the 11th Army Circle military base in Bangkok. There, Prathin was allowed to have only one brief meeting with his lawyer. He was brought to the meeting room with a hood placed over his head, hands and feet shackled, and accompanied by armed soldiers.

The Thai government’s mistreatment of civilians in military custody is rapidly piling up. The government needs to respond to these allegations of torture with a serious investigation rather than perfunctory dismissals.
Brad Adams

Asia director

Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists submitted a letter to the Thai government on November 24, raising serious concerns regarding conditions at the 11th Army Circle military base after the recent deaths of fortune teller Suriyan Sucharitpolwong and Police Maj. Prakrom Warunprapa, both charged with lese majeste, during their detention there. On the same day, the Southeast Asia Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for the immediate closure of this detention facility and an independent investigation into these custodial death cases.

The government has so far denied requests by human rights groups to visit detainees and examine conditions at the 11th Army Circle military base and other military detention facilities. Thai authorities have also failed to conduct serious and credible inquiries of alleged torture and other abuses in military detention.

The risk of torture and other serious abuses significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in military detention. Since the May 2014 coup, the NCPO junta has detained hundreds of politicians, activists, journalists, and people they accuse of supporting the deposed government, disrespecting or offending the monarchy, or being involved in anti-junta protests and activities. Many of these people have been held incommunicado in military camps where they have been interrogated without safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment.

“The Thai government’s use of military detention is a serious problem that should immediately end,” Adams said. “The government’s failure to heed concerns from the UN and human rights groups that civilians are at risk of serious abuses in military custody shows that the junta is leading Thailand into pariah state status.”

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