Thailand's leading forensic scientist is calling for major reforms to police investigation methods, which currently rely largely on obtaining confessions. Dr. Porntip Rojanasunan says forensic science must replace the use of force by Thailand's police officers. Dr. Porntip is a frequent critic of Thai police methods. She tells VOA that detainees are often beaten in police custody, and some simply disappear.
"The pattern of the investigation is to bring them away and try to find the information," she explained. "And some of them disappear forever ... I mean, they die. I do not like this pattern."
Dr. Porntip is a regular on Thai television news and entertainment programs, and the author of popular crime novels. She appeared often on international television in the aftermath of last December's Indian Ocean tsunami, recognizable by her unkempt, dyed red hair and hip attire.
She was selected by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra this week to lead a team of five other forensic experts to the United States, to assist in identifying victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Dr. Porntip first gained notoriety in Thailand by applying forensic science to a high-profile murder case and showing that the police evidence was wrong.
In recent months her attention has turned to the bloodshed in Southern Thailand, where she says those allegedly involved in the violence are particularly at risk from heavy-handed police tactics.
The police regularly challenge her findings and accusations in return. Earlier this year, five officers filed defamation charges against her and a colleague, after she questioned whether a man shot five times had committed suicide - as the police claimed - or was the victim of an extrajudicial killing.
"We have to set up the good system of the investigation," she said. "We have to start to investigate the good system of forensic science investigation in every case, not just only terrorism - in every cases, even the normal crime. We need the support from the laboratory."
Thai police are currently allowed to decide whether or not to call for forensic investigation of a crime scene. Dr. Porntip says her government-run Institute of Forensic Medicine has been excluded from undertaking investigations in the South due to the antagonism between her and the police.
More than 1,000 people have died in the ongoing violence there, with the government blaming Islamic separatists for much of the bloodshed. But there have also been instances of abuse in which the security forces have allegedly been involved.
Five former police officers are facing trial in connection with the 2004 abduction of a leading Muslim human rights lawyer, Somchai Neelapaichit. Just days before his disappearance, Mr. Somchai had accused the authorities in the South of using torture to extract confessions from suspects. He is still missing.
Thailand came in for international condemnation following a 2003 crackdown against drug dealers, which left more than 2500 people dead during a period of three months. The government said the victims were killed by drug gangs, but human rights activists accused the security forces of many of the shootings.