Thailand: Mother of Deep South Torture Victim Wins Legal Case

By Nasueroh
2015.08.26
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150826-TH-baedoh-620 Baedoh Sama-ae, mother of the late Ashari Sama-ae, speaks to reporters at her home in Yala province, Thailand, June 23, 2013.
BenarNews

In a rare ruling in Thailand’s restive Deep South, a court has ordered the Prime Minister’s Office to compensate the mother of a man who died of injuries from alleged torture while the military held him eight years ago.

At the courthouse in the capital district of southern Songkhla province, the Supreme Administrative Court on Aug. 21 ruled in favor of plaintiff Baedoh Sama-ae, saying that the use of excessive force had led to the death of her son, 26-year-old Ashari Sama-ae, on July 22, 2007.

The criminal lawsuit was under appeal, but the court upheld a lower court’s ruling dating to January 2012, in which the Prime Minister’s Office was ordered to pay Baedoh 534,301 baht (U.S. $14,998) in damages for her son’s death.

Last week’s Supreme Administrative Court decision gave the Prime Minister’s Office 60 days to pay her the aforementioned sum, plus 7.5 percent in accrued annual interest dating to July 17, 2008.

“After the court ruled that the Prime Minister’s Office pay me damages, I feel like the dark skies have cleared and that all the time I spent fighting this case has not been wasted,” Baedoh, a resident of neighboring Yala province, told BenarNews after her legal victory.

However, in handing down its decision, the court noted that Ashari’s arrest on July 21, 2007 was justified under Thailand’s Martial Law Act. The law is in force in the Deep South, a predominantly Muslim region where more than 6,000 people have died in an insurgency since 2004.

The court ruled against the Prime Minister’s Office, but dismissed similar criminal charges against the three other defendants in the case: the Ministry of Interior, the Royal Thai Army and the Royal Thai Police.

Suspicious bruises

Ashari Sama-ae was among a group of suspected insurgents who were arrested by police and army special forces at a rubber plantation in Krong Pinang district, Yala, in July 2007.

A day later, he died at a local hospital after soldiers transferred him there from the Ingkhayuthaborihan Army Base in nearby Pattani province. Doctors gave the cause of death as a brain hemorrhage and noted multiple bruises to Ashari’s head and chest.

Eventually, the other people who were arrested alongside Ashari filed a petition with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). In it, they detailed their own injuries and supported the plaintiff Baedoh’s charge that her son had died of torture.

History-making case: NGO

The case is rare, if not unprecedented, because few people from the Deep South win lawsuits against the government in cases involving alleged torture and excesses committed by members of Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command.

In June 2013, Baedoh received 7.5 million baht (U.S. $210,000) for her son’s death, as part of payouts made by the then government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to Deep South families that had lost loved ones to regional violence.

But that payout did not stem from her lawsuit against the government, according to the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), an NGO that provided Baedoh with legal assistance in pressing the suit.

“This case is the case that many teams helped in making history,” the CrCF said in a message posted on Facebook after the latest ruling.

Despite “the fact that everyone wants us to keep quiet” on the issue of torture carried out by the Thai security services, “we will not keep silent,” CrCF vowed.

Widespread reports of the torture of suspected insurgents in the Deep South, extrajudicial killings and apparent impunity for security forces that patrol the region fuel local resentment against the Thai government.

The Aug. 21 ruling in the Sama-ae case came days ahead of Tuesday’s meeting in Kuala Lumpur between Thai officials and southern rebel groups, at which the Thai delegation agreed to ensure “fair justice” in the Deep South as a pre-condition for potential peace talks.

Test case

Reacting to the court’s ruling, New York-based Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that the judgment cast light on the government’s “failure to prosecute soldiers who commit grave abuses in Thailand’s troubled deep south border provinces.”

“The case is a critical test of Prime Minister Chan-o-cha’s vow to bring justice” to the region, the rights watchdog said in a news release, in which it noted that authorities had failed to prosecute any of the soldiers who allegedly tortured and killed Ashari.

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