Thai police ask to delay enforcement of law preventing torture, enforced disappearances

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Kunnawut Boonreak
Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thai police ask to delay enforcement of law preventing torture, enforced disappearances Pro-democracy protesters commemorate the first anniversary of the disappearance of Thai activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who went missing in Cambodia in 2020, with a candlelight vigil in Bangkok, June 4, 2021.
Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP

The Royal Thai Police have asked the justice ministry to delay implementation of a law that guards against torture and enforced disappearances, saying officers need more time to prepare for it.

Adopted by the Thai parliament in August, the law scheduled to take effect on Feb. 22 would require police and military officers to videotape and record interrogations of suspects in custody.

In a letter to the ministry dated Jan. 6 and released online, police officials said they did not have the budget for equipment and needed more time to train personnel, but human rights advocates accused law enforcers of stalling.

Angkhana Neelapaijit, a Ramon Magsaysay Award winner and former member of the National Human Rights Commission, questioned the police request.

“This letter shows that police are reluctant to obey this law. The United Nations has trained many officers on the prevention of torture and enforced disappearance,” she told BenarNews.

“If they need more training, they could have invited experts, they simply cannot claim there is no budget to procure recording equipment for interrogations,” Angkhana said, adding that officers could use mobile phones if nothing else was available.

The letter from national police chief Gen. Damrongsak Kittipraphat to Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin listed the reasons for requesting the delay.

He said police could not allocate 3.47 billion baht (U.S. $103 million) to purchase cameras for officers. He was concerned that 250,000 officers lacked training to comply with the law, and added that its provisions were vague and without a standard operating procedure.

Lawmakers passed the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act on Aug. 24, 2022, and announced it in the Royal Gazette on Oct. 25, 2022, to take effect in 120 days (Feb. 22).

The act defines torture, enforced disappearance and victims. It declares that direct commanders could be held criminally liable. It also does not allow secret detention and protects those filing complaints from retaliation.

Two months before that act was passed, six police officers were sentenced to life in prison for the in-custody death of a drug suspect. His brutal interrogation – in which the suspect was handcuffed, with plastic bags over his head – was caught on video in 2021 and released on social media.

The officers included former police Col. Thitisan Utthanaphon, nicknamed “Jo Ferrari” because of his fleet of expensive cars.

Benefits of recording interrogations

Retired police Lt. Col. Songsak Thitithanwat, former deputy director of the Phayao Provincial Police Station, said officers would benefit from the act.

“Recording footage of the interrogation is a good thing because it will protect the rights of the people. The RTP should not delay the process any longer,” Songsak told BenarNews, using an acronym for the Royal Thai Police.

“The best practice is to conduct interrogations in the presence of a lawyer. All in all, I believe that police intend to follow the law.”

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Cross Cultural Foundation, said that recording interrogations would benefit both law enforcers and suspects.

“If they cannot purchase a camera, they can use a cell phone – if there is no cell phone, they can still arrest and interrogate anyway,” Pornpen told BenarNews. “But if they receive a complaint, police will not have important evidence to show that the officer did not beat or harm the suspect.”

Meanwhile, Worachat Awipan, a guest lecturer at the Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace Lab at Payap University, said the lack of readiness to implement the new law could be a legitimate concern, but he questioned preparation efforts.

“The Royal Thai Police have made no attempt to show that this bill is important. Therefore, they did not feel the urgency to train personnel in a timely manner,” he told BenarNews.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.