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Thai Appeals Court Acquits Police Major in Lawyer’s Disappearance

A Thai-Muslim woman activist holds a book with the cover showing a photo of missing Thai lawyer Somchai Neelapaichit (file photo)
A Thai-Muslim woman activist holds a book with the cover showing a photo of missing Thai lawyer Somchai Neelapaichit (file photo)

A Thai court has acquitted the last policeman accused of involvement in the disappearance of a leading Thai Muslim human rights lawyer seven years ago. The lawyer’s family has vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court.

A Thai appeals court Friday acquitted a police major of charges of robbery and forced detention of Muslim human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaichit in 2004.

But Police Major Ngern Thongsuk was not in court to hear the verdict. Relatives say he was swept away in a mudslide near his home in Phitsanulok province in 2008.

Major Ngern and four other crime suppression division officers had been charged with robbery and kidnapping in the disappearance of Somchai in March 2004. While four others were acquitted by lower courts, Major Ngern was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.

Despite investigations by successive governments, Somchai’s whereabouts remain unknown, and his body has never been recovered.

He disappeared just three weeks after he accused members of the Thai military of involvement in a raid in Southern Thailand on an army depot in early 2004.

Somchai had claimed five Muslim men, arrested for their alleged links with the depot raid, were all innocent and had been tortured in prison.

Angkhana Neelapaichit, Somchai’s wife, says the family will appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court.

"Although at the end I have lost, but why justice system doesn’t give me the opportunity to fight? It seems that I have been cut off from the justice system, from the fight for justice although the (Thai) constitution allows all persons to access justice. I’m really serious about this issue," said Angkhana Neelapaichit.

The Somchai case has been seen as a test of Thailand’s human rights performance in the troubled southern provinces beset by a Muslim insurgency that, since 2004, has claimed over four thousand lives.

Current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, soon after coming to power, had promised progress in the investigation of the case. Human rights lawyers warned that haste in settling the case could mean insufficient evidence would be presented to the court.

In acquitting Major Ngern, the judges said the plaintiffs had presented confusing statements of evidence and failed to convince the court the policeman had committed the offences as charged.