Rights Watchdog Demands Justice in Southern Thailand Torture Case

BenarNews Staff

2015-10-01
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151001-TH-body-620 A soldier kneels near the body of a man who was shot dead in Rueso district, in southern Thailand’s Narathiwat province, Sept. 28, 2015.
AFP

A U.S.-based human rights group called on Thai authorities Thursday to probe and prosecute an army officer implicated in the alleged death of a Muslim cleric at the hands of security forces in Thailand’s restive Deep South in March 2008.

The case of the torture and killing of Yapa Kaseng, 56, an imam from Narathiwat province represents “a major test of the Thai government’s commitment to justice for military abuses” that have occurred in Thailand southern border region, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a news release.

Sub-Lt. Sirikhet Wanitbamrung, the officer implicated in Yapa’s death seven years ago, now faces the prospect of being disciplined militarily or prosecuted after the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) recommended on Sept. 21 that the army and criminal prosecutors take legal action against him, according to reports in local newspapers.

“Imam Yapa’s death is a test case for the Thai authorities and army on whether they are willing to punish abusive troops for serious human rights violations,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.

“No more cover-up and delay – the new commission findings demand an immediate response.”

The officer, who is with the 39th Special Taskforce Unit stationed at Wat Suan Tham, in Narathiwat’s Rueso district, is accused of beating Yapa to death after soldiers detained him on March 20, 2008, over his alleged involvement in the Deep South insurgency, the Bangkok Post reported.

The case was tried at a provincial court later that year, the paper said. In December 2008, the court found that soldiers had tortured and killed the cleric over the course of two days of interrogation at a local military camp, according to the Post.

But no one has been prosecuted or convicted in the case. During the inquest, a doctor at the hospital in Rueso district testified that an autopsy on Yapa’s corpse had revealed fractured ribs, other broken bones and punctured lungs, the paper reported.

Counter-productive measures: HRW

Narathiwat, along with Pattani and Yala provinces and four districts in Songkhla province, comprise the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking region known as the Deep South, where there is a heavy military presence. A separatist insurgency waged by different armed groups and factions has wracked the region for years, claiming at least 6,000 lives since 2004.

This week, five more people were the victims of ongoing violence there, despite recent efforts by the Thai government and rebel groups to reopen formal peace talks. They were killed in a series of shootings in Narathiwat and Yala, including in Imam Yapa’s home district of Rueso.

The Yapa case exposes a broader problem with Thailand’s counter-insurgency operations in the south, Human Rights Watch said. According to the rights watchdog, many former detainees in the Deep South reported to HRW that their interrogators – soldiers in uniform or civilian clothes – had tortured them.

“As a priority, the Thai government needs to overhaul the counterinsurgency strategy that encourages abuses and then fails to provide effective redress for victims,” said Adams, of HRW.

“By relying on repressive measures to battle rebel forces, the Thai authorities have created a fertile ground for the insurgency to expand, precisely the opposite of what they intended.”

Newspaper speaks out on case

The Nation, a Thai English-language newspaper, echoed this point in an editorial published on Sunday.

“Many feared that the killing of Islamic leaders, be it Imam Yapa or others who have been shot dead by government or pro-government death squads, would radicalize the insurgents, who have over the past 11 years pretty much kept their campaign of violence against the state to the Malay-speaking region,” The Nation opined.

Pointing to the case’s slow pace, the paper’s editorial board questioned the seriousness of Thai authorities in delivering justice to Yapa’s family.

“Seven years later, the NACC has got around to making a recommendation as to what legal action should be taken. The fact it took this long to come to this point reflects poorly on

Thailand's justice system, which this and previous governments consistently vowed to improve and made accessible to all parties and stakeholders,” the editorial said.

“But from the look of how the state treats this and other similar cases, such promises appear to be little more than lip service.”  

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