Amnesty Alleges Torture in Thailand Since Coup

Two rights groups say they have collected evidence that detainees in Thailand have been tortured since the kingdom’s May 22 coup.


Amnesty International is accusing Thailand of “numerous human rights violations” during the first 100 days of martial law. The London-based organization, (in a report released Thursday) says there are “emerging allegations of torture” made by some of those arbitrarily detained by the junta.


Another organization, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), accuses the military of torturing at least 14 people accused of weapons charges since the May 22 coup. It has submitted a request to the interior ministry’s ombudsman, known as the Damrongtham Center, for an investigation, alleging a “grave breach to the principles of human rights.”


“Those detained under martial law have referred to beatings, mock executions, attempted asphyxiation,” said Rupert Abbott, the lead writer of the Amnesty International report. “In this report we’ve withheld the names of those who’ve spoken for their own safety. But certainly we can say that there is evidence emerging of torture and ill treatment under the new military government. But it is important to say that there were concerns around torture before the coup.”


VOA News repeatedly contacted the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) for a response to the allegations.  Amnesty International states it gave an advance copy of its report to the military last week.


But an NCPO spokesman replied he could not make a comment because he had not seen the report and suggested contacting the foreign affairs ministry for reaction. The ministry says it plans to respond to the report Thursday.


Abbott and other delegates of Amnesty International compiled their report after visiting Thailand in July. Besides interviews with some of those who have been detained, the delegation also met with the deputy chiefs of staff of the Royal Thai Army and Air Force and police officials.


Abbott, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific program, says his organization’s 65-page report, titled “Attitude Adjustment – 100 Days Under Martial Law” is likely the most comprehensive investigation of the rights situation in Thailand since the coup.


“We understand that the situation before the takeover was not good. There were, of course, incidents of violence and the government’s view is that it needed to take measures to stop that. What we’re saying is what’s been done goes beyond restrictions allowed under international law,” he said.


Amnesty International is calling on the junta leaders “to drop the veil of secrecy” over the detentions and reveal who is being held. It also asserts that military courts should have no jurisdiction to try civilians.

The Thai lawyers’ group had intended to release on September 2 its separate report about alleged human rights violations. But it was pressured by the junta to cancel an event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand where the document, titled “The Human Rights Situation: 100 Days after the Coup”, was to be handed to reporters and a panel had convened to discuss the accusations.


As the event was about to begin, police handed panelists a letter from the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division of the King’s Guard. It asked that the event be canceled and any complaints about justice be referred to the interior ministry’s inspection and grievances bureau.


Thailand’s coup has meant a drastic tightening of speech controls. The coup leader, army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, issued orders in the name of the NCPO restricting political gatherings of more than five people and summoning of hundreds of people for questioning under military detention. The media also remain under restrictions about what they can report.


Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is calling for the Thai government to immediately disclose the whereabouts of an opposition supporter it says was arrested by soldiers at a teachers’ training center in Bangkok last Friday.


The international organization says the family of 47-year-old Kittisak Soomsri received an anonymous phone call telling them he had been taken into custody under martial law but he would be released after seven days if they did not publicize the detention.   


Kittisak, a supporter of the “Red Shirts” political faction, which backed the previous civilian government, had previously been accused of involvement in violent political confrontations.


General Prayuth declared martial law on May 20, following a period of political instability and sometimes violent street protests. Two days later he removed the civilian government. The general is now prime minister, put into that post by a handpicked legislature.


General Prayuth, set to retire from the military next month, says his goal is to put Thailand back on the path to democracy but only after a period of sweeping political reform.


Both supporters and opponents of the coup concur that the junta views as a critical element of reform dismantling the influence of billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra. He was removed as prime minister in the previous coup in 2006.

His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was forced out as prime minister shortly before this year’s coup.

Thaksin Shinawatra is in self-imposed exile and faces imprisonment for a corruption conviction should he return home.

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