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(New York) – Thai authorities should promptly and impartially investigate the alleged torture of a suspect in the deadly bomb attack in Bangkok’s commercial district in August 2015, Human Rights Watch said today. Adem Karadag (also known as Bilal Mohammed) is one of two ethnic Uighur Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province accused of involvement in a bombing at Erawan Shrine in Bangkok on August 17, 2015 that killed 20 people and wounded at least 120 others.

On May 17, 2016, in front of media cameras at the Bangkok military court, Adem alleged that Thai authorities had tortured him in jail, and lifted up his shirt, exposing bruises on his body. Since his arrest on August 29, 2015, Adem has been held in a detention facility at Bangkok’s 11th Army Circle military base.

Adem Karadag, one of two suspects in the deadly bomb attack at Erawan Shrine in Bangkok on August 17, 2015, alleged that Thai authorities had tortured him in jail.  © 2015 Reuters

“Thai authorities have an obligation under international law to impartially investigate Adem Karadag’s allegations of torture,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The heinousness of the Bangkok bombings provides no excuse for the authorities to commit torture, and uncovering any mistreatment of suspects is crucial for ensuring a fair trial.”

On May 18, Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan publicly dismissed Adem’s allegations of torture: “It isn’t true. Why do you have to listen to him? He made the whole story up [that he was beaten in detention]…. Those bruises could have been self-inflicted. He could have done it to himself.” Later the same day, the Justice Ministry’s Correction Department held a press conference and accused Adem of making false claims to attract sympathy from human rights groups and the media.

Since Thailand’s military coup in May 2014, many individuals taken into military custody have alleged being tortured or otherwise ill-treated. Methods of torture alleged include beatings, electric shocks, and near suffocation.

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta has summarily dismissed allegations that the military or other security forces have tortured and ill-treated detainees – but have failed to conduct serious and credible inquiries into these allegations. Besides denying the allegations, the authorities have frequently accused those making allegations of making false statements with the intent of damaging Thailand’s reputation. For example, Thai authorities threatened a prominent human rights lawyer, Chuchart Kanpai, who represents Adem, with defamation charges for reporting to the media that his client was tortured by the army into confessing to the bomb attack.

Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment are prohibited under international treaties and customary international law. Thailand is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which specifically places an obligation on governments to investigate and prosecute acts of torture and other ill-treatment. Under the convention, any statement made as a result of torture “shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.”

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly expressed concerns about the abuse of civilians arrested by soldiers and interrogated in military custody. Human Rights Watch submitted a letter to the Thai government in November 2015 that raised serious concerns about conditions at the 11th Army Circle military base following the deaths of fortuneteller Suriyan Sucharitpolwong and Police Maj. Prakrom Warunprapa during their detention there. Human Rights Watch called on the government to immediately transfer all civilians detained at the 11th Army Circle military base to an officially recognized civilian place of detention that complies with international standards and ensure no further non-military prisoners are detained at this facility or any other similar facility.

“The government’s failure to investigate torture allegations is a flashing light atop military abuses,” Adams said. “The junta’s record of obfuscation and denial in the face of corpses in custody and battered bodies show just how detached the government has become from basic human rights protections.” 

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