Senior Thai Policeman Charged over Drug Suspect’s In-Custody Death

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2021-08-24
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Senior Thai Policeman Charged over Drug Suspect’s In-Custody Death Thai National Police Chief Suwat Changyodsuk talks to the media during a press conference at Provincial Police Region 8 on the southern island of Phuket, Aug. 8, 2021.
AP

Updated at 1:10 p.m. ET on 2021-08-25

Thailand’s national police chief said Tuesday that a station chief was charged with pre-meditated murder and would be investigated for the in-custody death of a suspected drug dealer, whose alleged torture by law enforcers was caught on video.

In video clips that have gone viral on social media, the chief of the police station in Muang, a district of Nakhon Sawan province, and some colleagues are allegedly seen wrapping a plastic bag around the suspect’s head while interrogating the man.

Pol. Gen. Suwat Changyodsuk, the national police chief, said the video looked authentic and that he had asked the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the station chief, Pol. Col. Thitisan Utthanapon, and 12 other officers involved in the alleged torture.

“From the videos, I believe the accusation [of torture] is true,” Suwat told a press conference, adding that disciplinary and criminal investigations would be conducted on the 13 officers.

“I ask you to take this as a lesson for all policemen, no one can get away with being guilty and one has to bear the consequences. …We have to weed out the bad apples … we can’t accommodate these kind of men.”

Suwat did not give details about the 12 other police officers.

The Muang station chief has reportedly fled to neighboring Laos, but BenarNews could not verify that independently.

Police identified the suspect who died as 24-year-old Jirapong Tanapat.

Sittra Biabungkerd, a lawyer for the People’s Lawyer Foundation, a pro bono group, had posted video clips of the alleged torture on its Facebook page on Tuesday, after receiving them from a junior officer at the Muang police station, 155 miles north of Bangkok.

The lawyers group said that it had received a petition from the junior officer who sent the video clips, asking that the Aug. 5 incident be exposed.

The officer – who expressed fear for his or her life – asked the lawyers to pass the clips on to the national police chief, the group said.

The clips show a group of police officers wrapping the suspect’s head in a plastic bag while interrogating him, and demanding two million baht (U.S. $60,758) as a bribe to drop the case against him, the lawyers group said on Facebook.

The junior officer whistleblower said two suspected drug dealers – including a woman – were being interrogated, although only one can be seen in the video, according to the lawyers.

“The petitioner said the two suspects agreed to pay one million baht but the colonel demanded two million, so he wrapped [a suspect’s] head with a plastic bag until he suffocated to death,” the lawyers’ Facebook page said, citing the whistleblower.

“The corpse was sent to a hospital and the colonel forced his subordinates to tell the doctors the suspect had overdosed on drugs. Then they told the woman to keep quiet in exchange for being released.”

A rights activist said the Thai police have for years been suspected of torturing suspects.

“Head wrappings by the police or military were heard about for a long time, but those security agencies, especially those in the Deep South, never admitted to it,” Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former national human rights commissioner, told BenarNews.

“But this time, the evidence is very clear.”

The Thai military has been in charge of security for 15 years in the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South after a separatist insurgent uprising re-ignited in 2004. About 7,000 people have been killed since then in violence across the southern border region.

During that time, rights groups have accused the military of using excessive force in the region, including systematic torture and extrajudicial killings, against insurgents.

Kunnawut Boonreak in Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributed to this report.

CORRECTION: An earlier version had an incorrect name for the lawyers' group and date for its Facebook post.

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