(New York) – The Thai military should immediately withdraw its criminal complaints against three human rights defenders for reporting alleged torture by government security forces in southern Thailand, Human Rights Watch said today.
The military’s actions pose a serious threat to all human rights monitoring and reporting in Thailand at a time when rights abuses are widespread in the country, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Thai military is targeting human rights activists for reporting grave abuses and standing up for victims,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should order these criminal complaints withdrawn and do what it should have done in the first place: seriously investigate the report’s allegations of torture.”
It was recently reported that on May 17, 2016, the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4 – which covers national security operations in the provinces along the southern border – filed a criminal complaint in Yala against prominent human rights activists Somchai Homlaor, Pornpen Khongkachonkie, and Anchana Heemmina. The complaint accuses the three of criminal defamation under the Penal Code and publicizing false information online under the Computer Crimes Act.
The complaint makes reference to the February report by the Cross Cultural Foundation, Duay Jai Group, and the Patani Human Rights Network that documents 54 cases in which Thai security personnel allegedly tortured and otherwise ill-treated ethnic Malay Muslim insurgent suspects between 2004 and 2015. If charged and convicted, the activists face up to five years in prison or a 100,000 baht (US$2,850) fine.
Thai authorities have an obligation to ensure that all people and organizations engaged in the protection and promotion of human rights are able to work in a safe and enabling environment, Human Rights Watch said. The right to file complaints about torture and mistreatment and to have the complaint promptly and impartially investigated is ensured under international treaties to which Thailand is party, including the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders affirms the prohibition against retaliation, threats, and harassment of anyone who takes peaceful action against human rights violations, both within and beyond the exercise of their professional duties.
The Thai military has a longstanding practice of dismissing allegations of torture and other serious abuses committed by security personnel in the southern border provinces, Human Rights Watch said. Thai authorities have also frequently retaliated against reporting of alleged rights abuses by filing lawsuits accusing critics of making false statements with the intent of damaging their reputation.
The military’s attempted use of a criminal complaint to retaliate against human rights defenders is contrary to Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha’s recent promise to criminalize torture and fulfill Thailand’s international obligations against the practice, Human Rights Watch said.
Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment are prohibited under international treaties and customary international law. The Convention against Torture, which Thailand ratified in 2007, obligates governments to investigate and prosecute acts of torture and other ill-treatment committed by government officials. However, the Thai government has yet to prosecute successfully any security personnel for abuses against ethnic Malay Muslims alleged to be involved in the insurgency.
In June 2014, the UN Committee Against Torture recommended Thailand “should take all the necessary measures to: (a) put an immediate halt to harassment and attacks against human rights defenders, journalists, and community leaders; and (b) systematically investigate all reported instances of intimidation, harassment and attacks with a view to prosecuting and punishing perpetrators, and guarantee effective remedies to victims and their families.”
Separatist insurgents in southern Thailand called the Patani Freedom Fighters (Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani,) part of the loose network of BRN-Coordinate (Barisan Revolusi Nasional, or National Revolution Front-Coordinate), continue to maintain a presence in hundreds of villages despite significant setbacks in recent years. The insurgents use state-sponsored abuses and heavy-handed counterinsurgency tactics to recruit new members and justify their campaign of violence and terror, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives since fighting erupted in January 2004.
“Atrocities by separatist insurgents provide no justification for abuses by Thai security forces,” Adams said. “Covering up torture and other crimes by targeting human rights activists only undermines efforts to improve the security situation in the deep south.”