Rights groups accuse Thai junta of hypocrisy over torture law

Thailand’s security forces have been accused of rights violations, including torture, in the Muslim-majority ‘Deep South’ where a fight with rebels has left thousands dead since 2004. — AFP pic
Thailand’s security forces have been accused of rights violations, including torture, in the Muslim-majority ‘Deep South’ where a fight with rebels has left thousands dead since 2004. — AFP pic

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BANGKOK, June 29 — Rights groups accused the Thai junta of hypocrisy today for crafting a landmark law against torture at the same time as bringing charges against three activists who probed allegations of army abuse of detainees.

A bill to ban torture and enforced disappearances was approved by the junta in April and should go before the rubber-stamp national assembly in coming months.

If passed, it will be the first law of its kind in a kingdom where more than 80 activists have vanished since 1980, with the perpetrators rarely — if ever — brought to justice.

Security forces have also long been accused of rights violations, including torture, in the Muslim-majority ‘Deep South’ where a fight with rebels has left thousands dead since 2004.

But earlier this month the military charged three leading rights defenders with defamation for a report that described alleged torture suffered by scores of former detainees at the hands of soldiers in the restive southernmost provinces.

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Anchana Heemmina and Somchai Homlaor could be jailed if the case makes trial as defamation is a criminal offence in Thailand.

“Thai diplomats tell the international community it respects human rights, but at home the Thai junta files complaints against human rights defenders for doing their work,” said Sam Zarifi, of International Commission of Jurists, at a forum on torture.

The three have also been charged under a draconian computer law for spreading the information online, which carries its own jail term.

“Protection is needed for victims and activists working to shed light on torture allegations as they are often harassed by perpetrators,” Somchai, who is a human rights lawyer, told the seminar.

While there is no time frame for the passing of the new law, the Thai junta has been applauded for moving to criminalise torture and enforced disappearance after a wave of high profile cases.

As it stands the law would have no exemptions for political or security reasons. Residents in the Thailand’s southernmost provinces say ‘national security’ is often used as a shield from prosecution for abuses.

The draft law provides penalties for government officials who commit torture of up to 20 years in prison, 30 years if the torture leads to serious injury, and life imprisonment if the torture results in death. — AFP

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