Thai police said Tuesday they were considering charging a band of soldiers who allegedly beat a man to death and injured his brother while questioning them about their alleged roles in the drug trade.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), meanwhile, urged the Thai government to investigate allegations that members of an army anti-narcotics unit tortured the two men in their custody. The global watchdog group also called on Thailand to stop such abuse by revoking the military’s broad authority, which allows it to arrest and interrogate drug suspects.
Police said those soldiers who were responsible for beating the suspects could face charges.
“Initially, we would charge them with two offenses – murder and physical attack. We may add other charges, if plausible, depending on the evidence,” police Col. Srinakorn Naiyawat, chief of the That Phanom police station in northeastern Nakhon Phanom province, told reporters on Tuesday.
Police said as many as seven soldiers could face the two charges while others could face additional charges.
A preliminary investigation showed that the man who died in custody, Yutthana Saisa, 33, suffered brain and chest injuries, according to police, who said they were awaiting final autopsy results from the forensic unit of Srinagarind Hospital in nearby Khon Kaen province. Officials did not say when the final results would be available.
“And then we can conclude the case and we will inform their unit to bring them to acknowledge the charges,” Srinakorn said.
Yutthana and his brother, Natthapong Saisa, 29, were arrested at their home in Nakhon Phanom on April 17 by the anti-drug task force whose members allegedly used force to interrogate them, according to police.
Natthapong, who suffered broken ribs, alleged that the soldiers tortured him and his brother, who died after the interrogation, HRW said.
He told local media that at about 8:30 p.m. on April 17, more than 10 uniformed soldiers from the anti-drug unit stormed their house, according to HRW. The soldiers announced they were conducting an anti-drug raid and accused the brothers of selling methamphetamine.
About seven soldiers interrogated each of the men, demanding that they confess to having sold drugs in the community, Natthapong said. The soldiers repeatedly punched and kicked him and his brother and stomped on their chests for about an hour, he said.
On Tuesday, a military spokesman said the soldiers would be prepared to face justice.
“The army won’t defend wrongdoers – this is the policy of Army Chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong,” said Maj. Gen. Rachan Prachantasen, spokesman for the second army region. “We soldiers admit guilt if we made a mistake and overreacted.”
On Monday, local media reported that seven soldiers tried to attend a funeral rite but were not able to see Yutthana’s parents. His father, Niwat Saisa, told other local media that he had received 10,000 baht (U.S. $307) from the anti-drug unit for compensation.
HRW called for an impartial investigation and an end to military abuses.
Thailand’s armed forces have “frequently been implicated in arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, and torture in anti-narcotics operations,” the rights advocacy group said.
“The Thai soldiers who tortured these two brothers, killing one of them, will only face justice for this ghastly crime if there is an independent and impartial investigation,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in a statement released Tuesday.
“The Thai government should realize that the military shouldn’t be carrying out civilian law enforcement and should end their authority to carry out drug raids.”