Thailand’s leader Tuesday ordered an investigation into the killing of a 17-year-old activist, as reports surfaced about a soldier turning himself in to police to face charges in the shooting death.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said he was ordering a probe into the killing of Chaiyaphum Pa-sae at Ban Rinluang, a check point in a remote district of northern Chiang Mai province, on Friday. The teen resisted arrested and attempted to throw a grenade at officers manning the checkpoint, police had stated.
“I will order an investigation into the case. But if you think the military summarily killed him because he is an ethnic, you cannot think so because the government does not bare such a grudge,” the prime minister and junta chief told reporters in Bangkok.
“Anyway, the case will be probed for transparency with evidence and witnesses. Don’t talk too much otherwise it may negatively affect the case,” Prayuth said.
Police said Chaiyaphum was riding in a car with a 19-year-old friend who was driving when officers stopped and searched the vehicle, finding 2,800 hidden methamphetamine pills.
Chaiyaphum allegedly used a knife and grenade to try to escape while his friend was detained, soldiers from the 5th Cavalry Regiment Task Force reported.
“Soldiers said they found a hand grenade to the right of the body,” Panudesh Boonreung, deputy commander for the 5th Police Region Bureau, based in Chiang Mai, told reporters.
According to media reports late Tuesday, a soldier who allegedly killed Chaiyaphum turned himself in to police in Chiang Dao district, was charged with murder and released on bail.
Officers in charge at the station declined to respond to BenarNews when asked about reports of the soldier’s arrest or to release his name. Police officials Cholathep Maichai and Monkol Sumpawapol said they could not release additional information.
Rights groups react
The killing drew outcries domestically and internationally because Chaiyaphum was considered a popular activist who campaigned against drugs and for the rights of stateless people in Thailand.
A Thai NGO, Surapong Kongchantuk, chairman of the Cross-Cultural Foundation, said the government should set up a neutral committee to investigate the case.
“What we are concerned about is how to have a fluid and fair justice. The suspect is a soldier and is influential. In our past experience, witnesses were afraid to come out and testify. Especially when the army spokesman previously confirmed the soldiers acted in legal self-defense,” he said, adding that the “soldier versus civilian” incident was not the first in the region.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International expressed similar concerns.
“The claim that soldiers killed an outspoken young ethnic activist in self-defense after he had been held by soldiers sets the alarm bells ringing,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch (HRW). “Instead of accepting at face value the account of the soldiers who shot Chaiyaphum, the authorities need to thoroughly and impartially investigate this case and make their findings public.”
The government should immediately direct the Department of Special Investigation to investigate Chaiyaphum’s death and request the National Human Rights Commission to investigate the case, HRW said.
The New York-based global rights watchdog urged the Thai government to ensure the safety of witnesses in this case, including the driver of the car, whom it identified as Pongsanai and said was being detained at Mae Taeng Prison in Chiang Mai province.
Amnesty International called for Thai authorities to promptly order an independent and effective investigation and to ensure that those responsible are held accountable if any human rights violations contributed to his death.