Thai Military Court Charges 9 in Soldier’s Alleged Torture, Death in 2011

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Mariyam Ahmad
Bangkok and Pattani, Thailand
2021-10-05
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Thai Military Court Charges 9 in Soldier’s Alleged Torture, Death in 2011 A young man (right) reacts after picking a red ballot confirming his conscription into the Thai armed forces during the annual military draft in Bangkok, July 23, 2020.
AFP

A military court has charged a former army officer and eight of his subordinates with third-degree murder in a decade-old case involving the alleged torture and death of a private at an army camp in Thailand's restive Deep South, a lawyers’ group and the victim’s niece said.

The court ordered the defendants – three of whom were dismissed from the military, according to the niece of victim Pvt. Wichian Peuksom – to submit their pleas at a hearing set for Nov. 25, according to a lawyer at the Muslim Attorney Center Foundation (MAC).

“On Sept. 30 the military court for the 46th Military Circle indicted [the-then] Lt. Puri Perksopon and eight of his subordinates for malfeasance, disobedience of superiors and third degree murder,” lawyer Zakiman Benjadecha told BenarNews.

Zakiman said he and Wichian’s niece, Narisalawan Kaewnopparat, went to the court but were not allowed to attend the hearing.

The charges stem from an incident in early June 2011. Wichian, who was 26, was “slapped in the face, forced to eat chili, dragged on the floor, had salt poured in cuts, stomped on the chest and beaten with a bamboo stick by his trainers” in a camp in Narathiwat province, Narisalawan told BenarNews.

Wichian was pronounced dead on June 5, 2011, a day after being admitted to a hospital while suffering from kidney failure and muscle lethargy, Narisalawan said, adding that drill instructors beat him after allegedly accusing him of attempting to escape. No autopsy details were released.

She said three of the nine who were charged have been dismissed while the others were discharged after their terms ended.

“As far as I know, three of them were fired – Capt. Puri, a sub lieutenant, and a sergeant – the rest were discharged ending their conscription term,” Narisalawan said, referring to the officer who was a lieutenant at the time of the attack.

Col. Kiatisak Neewong, spokesman for the military’s command in the Deep South, said he could not respond to BenarNews’ questions because he did not have information.

Zakiman said the military court does not reply to questions from civilians.

Thailand lacks law against torture

Wichian’s survivors have spent years seeking justice.

Narisalawan said she and her family filed several petitions against Puri and his subordinates with then-Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha, but to no avail. Three years after the 2011 incident, Prayuth led a coup to overthrow the democratic government of Yingluck Shinawatra and replace her as prime minister.

In 2018, Narisalawan successfully filed a petition with the Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission, which is authorized to conduct an initial investigation into misconduct by government officials. That investigation determined charges could be brought against Puri and the others, she said.

This year, a military court prosecutor started an investigation which led to indictments last week. The military lawyer acts as plaintiff when prosecuting the case while Wichian’s survivors have no role in the case and can be observers only, Zakiman said.

The delayed indictment shows how difficult it is to prosecute officials, according to the Cross-Cultural Foundation, an NGO assisting the family. Because Thailand lacks a law against torture and enforced disappearances, “it results in difficulty in prosecuting government officials, particularly in regard with the two alleged crimes,” noted Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, the foundation’s director.

In September, the Thai parliament accepted four draft bills on torture and enforced disappearances which have been sent to a lower House committee for review.

Abuse allegations

Pornpen said that in more than 10 years, no one has been punished for their alleged roles in Wichian’s torture and death.

“[A] soldier was sentenced to six months in jail in 2012 for beating up a 20-year-old man and a 14-year-old-boy in Yala, but the sentence was suspended,” she told BenarNews on Monday while discussing a similar case.

Thailand has seen other abuse cases in the more recent past. In 2017, the family of a first-year cadet who died on campus at the nation’s most prestigious military preparatory school asked the government to explain why their own autopsy revealed some of his vital organs were missing.

Officials listed the cause of death as heart failure for Pakapong Tanyakan, an 18-year-old cadet who died on Oct. 17, 2017, at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School in Nakhon Nayok province.

His parents, Pichet and Sukanya Tanyakan, contracted for their own autopsy which found that his brain, heart, stomach, bladder, a lung and kidney were missing and he had a broken rib.

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