By Max Constant
Thailand’s junta blocked Wednesday a human rights seminar denouncing reported torture under the military regime, saying the foreign experts participating were not entitled to speak publicly.
The seminar organized in Bangkok by Amnesty International aimed to present a newly released report by the human rights group denouncing alleged torture by military and police forces under the Thai junta.
A lawyer for Amnesty International told reporters before the event was due to start that officials had warned that if the seminar went ahead, the rights group’s staff could be arrested and prosecuted under Thai labor laws.
The group decided to cancel the event out of precaution.
Laurent Meillan, the acting Southeast Asia representative for the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights who was among the planned speakers, expressed dismay over the cancelation on his Facebook page.
“I regret that I could not speak at the public launch of an Amnesty report on torture,” he wrote. “The incident is another striking illustration of a new pattern of harassment of human rights defenders documenting torture in Thailand.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Amnesty International released a statement announcing the report’s release.
“Thailand’s military rulers have allowed a culture of torture to flourish, where there is no accountability for the perpetrators and no justice for the victims,” the rights group’s international director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Rafendi Djamin, said in the statement.
Djamin was one of the planned speakers at the event, along with Laurent Meillan and Yuval Ginbar, a human rights activist.
The report, titled Make him Speak by Tomorrow: Torture and Other Ill-treatment in Thailand, documents 74 cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment at the hands of soldiers and the police “including beatings, suffocation by plastic bags, strangling by hand or rope, water boarding, electric shocks of the genitals, and other forms of humiliation”.
In one of the cases detailed in the report, a victim named “Tul” (not his real name) described the torture allegedly inflicted upon him by the military while he was detained in an undisclosed location shortly after the May 22, 2014 coup which brought the junta to power.
“They put a plastic bag on my head until I fainted, and then poured a bucket of cold water on me,” he told Amnesty International.
“They applied electro-shock to my penis and chest. I was restrained, my legs tied, and my face covered with tape and a plastic bag,” he added.
A former army junior commander, who did not want to be identified, told Amnesty International that military officers who receive orders to torture suspects have no choice but to obey.
“An officer gets punished if he doesn’t get results,” he said.
“In the army, people use force to control, not thought. An order is final,” he added.
Thailand is a party to the UN Convention against Torture, but there is still no law in the country specifically criminalizing torture.
Amnesty International also described as problematic the fact Thai judges can decide to rely in court on “evidence” obtained through torture.
“Most victims are too afraid to speak out. When they come forward to complain, the courts tend to ignore them. And yet, the same courts are willing to accept coerced confessions, even after they are retracted,” Djamin said in the statement.
The rights group recommended that Thailand’s government end “unaccountable detention”, criminalize torture and ban the use of “evidence” obtained through torture in order to “address the legal and institutional shortcomings that enable torture”.
Junta chief-cum-prime minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha said last May that torture would be made a criminal offense under Thai law to fulfill the country’s obligations under the UN Convention against Torture.
The military, however, has appeared to be on the defensive every time accusations of torture are leveled against its personnel.
Last July, three civil society activists who wrote a report on torture in military camps in the country’s Muslim south were formally charged with defamation and violation of the computer crime act after the military filed a legal case against them.
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