Thailand's government is denying that anyone detained since martial law was declared in the kingdom has been tortured. But two rights groups say they have collected evidence that indicates there have been a number of serious incidents.
In a written response to the international human rights group Amnesty International, Thailand's junta says its internal investigation “has found no evidence of alleged torture” during the first 100 days of martial law, as alleged.
Amnesty, along with a domestic organization, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), this week separately accused the military of abusing some of those who have been held under martial law.
Rupert Abbott is the lead writer of the Amnesty report, which speaks of “emerging allegations of torture” made by some of those arbitrarily detained by the junta.
“Those detained under martial law have referred to beatings, mock executions, attempted asphyxiation. In this report we've withheld the names of those who've spoken for their own safety. But certainly we can say that there is evidence emerging of torture and ill treatment under the new military government. But it is important to say that there were concerns around torture before the coup,” said Abbott.
The domestic lawyers' group accuses the military of torturing at least 14 people accused of weapons charges since the May 22 coup. It has submitted a request to the interior ministry’s ombudsman, known as the Damrongtham Center, to investigate, alleging a “grave breach to the principles of human rights.”
Thailand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Sek Wannamethee said all such allegations are taken seriously by government agencies, which refer them to the military junta, which is known officially as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
“We bring these allegations to the attention of the NCPO and they will continue to conduct internal inquiries,” said Sek.
Amnesty International compiled its report after visiting Thailand in July. Besides interviews with some of those who have been detained, the delegation also met with the deputy chiefs of staff of the Royal Thai Army and Air Force and police officials.
Foreign ministry spokesman Sek said the Amnesty report does not put things in Thailand into context. For example, he explained, there is no reference of the level of violence that compelled the soldiers to step in, as they have done numerous times previously to oust a civilian government.
“As Thailand is going through a period of reform and justice then this reflects the need for the martial law to remain in place,” said Sek.
Abbott, the deputy director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific program, said that should not be an excuse for violations of human rights.
“We understand that the situation before the takeover was not good. There were, of course, incidents of violence and the government's view is that it needed to take measures to stop that. What we're saying is what's been done goes beyond restrictions allowed under international law,” said Abbott.
Amnesty International is calling on the junta leaders “to drop the veil of secrecy” over the detentions and reveal who is being held. It also asserts that military courts should have no jurisdiction to try civilians.
The Thai lawyers’ group had intended to release on September 2 its separate report about alleged human rights violations, but it was pressured by the junta to cancel an event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand where the document was to be distributed to reporters and a panel had convened to discuss the accusations.
As the event was about to begin, police handed panelists a letter from the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division of the King’s Guard. It asked that the event be canceled and any complaints about justice be referred to the interior ministry’s inspection and grievances bureau.
Thailand’s coup has meant a drastic tightening of speech controls. The coup leader, army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, issued orders in the name of the NCPO restricting political gatherings of more than five people and summoning of hundreds of people for questioning under military detention. The media also remain under restrictions about what they can report.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is calling for the Thai government to immediately disclose the whereabouts of an opposition supporter it says was arrested by soldiers at a teachers’ training center in Bangkok last Friday.
The international organization says the family of 47-year-old Kittisak Soomsri received an anonymous phone call telling them he had been taken into custody under martial law but that he would be released after seven days if they did not publicize the detention.
Kittisak, a supporter of the “Red Shirts” political faction, which backed the previous civilian government, had previously been accused of involvement in violent political confrontations.
General Prayuth declared martial law on May 20, following a period of political instability and sometimes violent street protests. Two days later, he removed the civilian government. The general is now prime minister, put into that post by a handpicked legislature.
General Prayuth, set to retire from the military next month, says his goal is to put Thailand back on the path to democracy, but only after a period of sweeping political reform.
Both supporters and opponents of the coup concur that the junta views as a critical element of reform dismantling the influence of billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra. He was removed as prime minister in the previous coup in 2006. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was forced out as prime minister shortly before this year’s coup.
Thaksin Shinawatra is in self-imposed exile and faces imprisonment for a corruption conviction should he return home.