Updated at 7:44 p.m. (ET) on 2015-03-13
The wife of a Thai Muslim lawyer, who was kidnapped off a busy street in Bangkok 11 years ago, is calling on authorities to open a new investigation into his case, saying she cannot trust the acting investigators.
Thursday marked the 11th anniversary of the abduction of attorney Somchai Neelapaijit.
He had been handling a lawsuit against police on behalf of Muslim suspects in a criminal case that originated in Thailand’s Muslim-dominated Deep South region. The plaintiffs alleged that police interrogators had tortured them.
“Today, on the occasion of the 11th anniversary, we want to come here to mark the incident, to recall what happened and we want to demand justice,” Angkhana Neelapaijit, Somchai’s wife, told reporters as she visited the location on Ramkhamhaeng Road where he was pulled from his car on March 12, 2004, never to be seen again.
“Ten, eleven years [ago], the DSI took on the case but without any progress because the wrong-doers are police,” she added, referring to the Thai Department of Investigation.
On Wednesday, the eve of the anniversary, Angkhana met with DSI Director-General Suwana Suwanjutha in Bangkok to request that the agency launch a new probe into the case.
During the meeting Angkhana was told that the original case file, which was reported missing two years ago, had not in fact been lost.
In 2013, Police Col. Nirund Adulyasak, the top cop assigned to the case, told Thai media that the file went missing when demonstrators opposing the government of then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra broke into the DSI’s Bangkok offices.
“I met the director-general of the DSI, asking about the case file, and her subordinates told her that the file is still there, but they didn’t show me any evidence to prove that it still exists,” Angkhana told BenarNews.
DSI officials also told her that Nirund’s related statements to the press two years ago were erroneous, she added.
“So, I cannot trust the current probing panel, which also didn’t follow up on anything,” she said.
In response to Angkhana’s allegations, DSI Deputy Spokesman Police Maj. Col. Woranan Srilam told BenarNews that investigative teams assigned to the case were reshuffled through bureaucratic changes within the agency.
“The investigators were still working on the case and the report of the case file missing was not true. The DSI kept evidence in separate places,” Woranan said.
“What we are going to do is take a careful look at the existing reports and evidence, and discuss with the attorney-general, who has legal expertise, which direction the investigation or proceeding will go,” he added.
Visiting Ramkhamhaeng Road
On Thursday, Angkhana and one of her daughters, Pratubjit Neelapaijit (pictured), marked the anniversary by going together to the spot where Somchai was snatched from their lives 11 years ago.
“Today we want to come here and tell [the public] that there was a man [who went] missing from this area. Here in the capital city, there is a big street, a lot of cars passing by, where and when Somchai was abducted…,” Angkhana told reporters.
“Today is the 11th year anniversary that Somchai Neelapaijit was abducted from this area. I have to frankly say that I’ve never stopped at this spot but only passed by. [I] was not strong enough to come here and look, not courageous enough to walk around this spot,” she added.
Allegations of police brutality
At the time of his abduction, Somchai Neelapaijit was heading a high-profile lawsuit alleging torture of Muslim suspects at the hands of police in the Deep South, according to the U.S.-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
His clients were suspects in the looting of a military barrack in January 2004, the starting point of the now 11-year-old separatist insurgency in the far southern region.
After Somchai’s abduction, five police officers were arrested and charged with “robbing and assaulting” the missing lawyer.
On March 11, 2011, the Court of Appeal, the second of Thailand’s three-tiered judicial system, acquitted four of the five defendants, according to the Muslim Attorney Center Foundation.
Angkhana has been trying to push the proceedings to a murder or abduction case.
“They said the findings are difficult to turn it into murder case because Somchai’s body was not found, but the investigation can be based on the ground of enforced disappearance,” she told BenarNews.
“The fact of the matter is that there was a group of people abducting him, so [traces] may be found out from telephone logs of those suspiciously involved in the abduction to see what happened,” she added.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the DSI deputy spokesman as Police Lt. Col. Woranan Srilam.