(New York) – The Thai government should promptly and impartially investigate the alleged torture of an ethnic Malay Muslim suspected of involvement in insurgency, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should also instruct the army to immediately withdraw its criminal complaints and end other forms of harassment against activists who have publicized allegations of torture by security officials in Thailand’s southern border provinces.

Eroheng Salilatae was allegedly tortured by Thai soldiers when they raided his house in Pattani province, on November 18, 2016.

© 2016 Private

On November 22, 2016, Rohana Salilatae reported to the Muslim Attorney Council that her husband, Eroheng Salilatae, was brutally beaten by soldiers when they raided their house in Pattani province’s Nong Chik district on the morning of November 18. Soldiers from the army’s 43rd Taharn Pran Unit allegedly punched, slapped, and kicked Eroheng, demanding that he confess that he provided a hiding place for insurgents and was the owner of two AK-47 assault rifles that soldiers said they found outside his house. They also allegedly struck him on the chest with rifle butts during the interrogation. On November 20, Eroheng was transferred from a detention facility at Ingkayuthboriharn Camp in Pattani province to the Pattani Provincial Hospital after he complained about severe pain in his chest and abdomen.

“Thai security officials have now made torture routine in Thailand’s restive southern region, mistreating suspected insurgents with impunity,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “For the government’s response to be credible, the authorities need to seriously investigate these cases and bring all involved to justice.”

Troops from regular and militia units in the southern border provinces carry a code-of-conduct booklet produced by the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) which states that violations of human rights and due process of law are prohibited. However, Human Rights Watch has interviewed many ethnic Malay Muslims who reported they had been tortured or ill-treated by security personnel. Lawyers and independent medical experts who have seen detainees during and after their release have corroborated these allegations. The most common forms of torture have been ear-slapping, punching, kicking, beating, use of electric shock, strangulation, and suffocation with plastic bags.

Torture and other ill-treatment 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 against Torture, 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.”

In September 2016, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha made a promise to make torture a criminal offense under Thai law and to fulfill Thailand’s obligations under the Convention against Torture. Under that convention, the Thai government is obligated 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. Instead, in many cases, Thai authorities provided financial compensation to victims or their families in exchange for their agreement not to pursue criminal prosecution of abusive officials.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised concerns that Thai authorities retaliate against those reporting alleged human rights violations by filing lawsuits under the Penal Code and the Computer Crimes Act accusing critics of making false statements with the intent of damaging their reputation.

The Thai government is obligated under its international human rights treaty commitments 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 many atrocities by the insurgents in southern Thailand provide no excuse for the authorities to commit torture and other human rights violations, or shield offending officials from criminal accountability,” Adams said. “Officials with unchecked powers and no fear of being punished have seriously undermined efforts to promote respect for rights and reconciliation in Thailand’s southern border provinces.”