Thailand’s army Tuesday dropped criminal defamation charges against three human rights activists linked to a report that alleged systematic torture of insurgents in the custody of security forces in the Thai Deep South.
A spokesman for the regional command (ISOC 4) that covers the southern border zone said the three activists would not face trial for defaming the military and for committing computer crimes, as alleged in a complaint brought against them in May 2016.
“We filed the complaint because we wanted an option to join them in a co-investigation on the claimed torture. We will withdraw the case today. We have no intention to just win the case and punish them through prosecution,” ISOC 4 spokesman Col. Pramote Prom-in told reporters Tuesday at a hotel in Bangkok.
The complaint had named Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF); Somchai Hom-la-or, an adviser to CrCF; and Anchana Heemmina, who is with the Duay Jai (With Heart) Group, as targets of a criminal defamation suit.
Pornpen confirmed to BenarNews that ISOC4 had withdrawn all charges against her and the other activists.
In July, the three had appeared before police in Pattani, one of the provinces in the Deep South, to answer to charges of defaming the security services and violating Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act through the online publication of the report, “Torture and Ill Treatment in the Deep South Documented in 2014-2015,” released five months earlier.
The 49-page report co-published by CrCF, Duay Jai and a third local NGO, the Pattani Human Rights Organization (HAP), detailed allegations of torture of suspected insurgents in custody between 2004 and 2015.
The report cited accounts by 54 people ranging in age from 19 to 48 who alleged they had been subjected to physical torture, psychological torture or other inhumane treatment while incarcerated in the Deep South. Physical torture included water boarding, electrocution and sexual assault.
All the detainees were Muslim or Malay-speaking locals from the region, where violence associated with a separatist insurgency has claimed nearly 7,000 lives since 2004.
Pramote said both sides agreed to three proposals: setting up a joint committee to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in the Deep South; establishing a mechanism to prevent such abuses; and establishing a mechanism for all stakeholders to agree to the contents of human rights reports about the Deep South.
“The human rights organizations must work with the ISOC to achieve peace in the Deep South,” Pramote said.
Those organizations expect to play a positive role in the process.
“We NGOs will play a role like a bridge between suffering people and the government to solve violence against human rights,” Anchana told BenarNews after the news conference. “We also insist that we will be documenting, fact-finding and reporting comprehensive and more detailed accounts from all stakeholders.”
The withdrawal drew praise from Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia.
“We commend the military authorities for their decision to drop the case against these brave activists,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“This case is emblematic of how criminal defamation provisions and other repressive laws have been used to target activists peacefully exercising their rights in Thailand. To prevent further such injustices, the authorities should reform or repeal repressive laws and bring them into line with the country’s international obligations.”
Laurent Meillan, acting regional representative of the U.N. Human Rights Office, also welcomed the move.
“Today’s developments are very positive, and we encourage the Government of Thailand to take additional steps to strengthen measures to protect activists carrying out human rights reporting and monitoring,” Meillan said.
“Our office supports today’s plans to establish mechanisms whereby the military, activists and other concerned stakeholders will come together to review and investigate allegations of human rights violations in the south. We stand ready to provide technical advice in this process.”