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Rights groups outrage over alleged torture in Thailand

Activist says she was beaten, blindfolded and suffocated by military

Rights groups outrage over alleged torture in Thailand

Thailand's military leaders declared a coup in May. Picture: Shutterstock reporter, Bangkok

August 6, 2014

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Allegations of torture of an opposition activist by the Thai military has prompted calls for an investigation from international human rights groups. 

Kritsuda Khunasen, 27, an activist with the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, said that after her May 27 arrest, she was blindfolded, bound and beaten by soldiers during the first seven days of her 30-day detention.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists each issued statements on Tuesday calling on Thailand's military leaders to conduct an investigation into the allegations.

"Thai authorities should immediately conduct an independent and detailed investigation into the alleged torture of Kritsuda Khunasen and, if verified, bring the perpetrators to justice," said Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Khunasen, who made her allegations in an interview posted on YouTube on Saturday, said she was suffocated with a plastic bag until she lost consciousness and was placed in a zipped body bag. Khunasen has reportedly left Thailand to seek asylum in an undisclosed European country.

Human Rights Watch called on Thai authorities to "immediately and impartially investigate" Khunasen's charges.

"The Thai junta's alleged torture of a detained activist is further cause for alarm that rights protections are not on the military's agenda," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

A spokesman for the military de facto government, the National Council for Peace and Order, denied the allegations on Tuesday, telling the Reuters news agency that they were "100 percent fabricated".

"We checked with the officials, and no such incidents took place," Col Winthai Suvaree told Reuters.

Adams described the military's response to Khunasen's allegations as "dismissive".

"Only by promptly investigating Kritsuda’s allegations and prosecuting those responsible can the junta undo its knee-jerk denial of her serious charges," he said. 

Wilder Tayler, secretary general of the International Committee of Jurists, said if Khunasen's account is proven true, it "suggests that she is the victim of serious human rights violations".

"If the allegations are substantiated, Kritsuda Khunasen's case would be the first confirmed case of torture since the military coup, and would fly in the face of the National Council for Peace and Order's public statements that there has been no torture since it took power," he said.

Khunasen was among several hundred politicians, activists, journalists and academics rounded up and detained by the military following the May 22 coup. After being in custody for seven days, the limit for administrative detention under martial law, Khunasen said she was forced to sign a document stating that she volunteered to remain in military custody. She was released without charge on June 24.

Shamdasani said that since the May 22 coup, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay has contacted Thai authorities on two separate occasions: on June 11 to emphasize the need to comply with international human rights standards and on July 16 to raise concerns on Khunasen's whereabouts and the lack of transparency in her case.

"Thus far, no substantive feedback from the authorities has been received on these concerns," she said. 

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