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Thailand

Thai police accused of regular use of torture

Rights advocates say the Thai government has failed miserably to live up to pledges to end torture in police custody

Benjamin Freeman, Bangkok

Benjamin Freeman, Bangkok

Published: November 08, 2021 04:43 AM GMT

Updated: November 08, 2021 04:52 AM GMT

Thai police accused of regular use of torture

A police officer points a gun at protesters and press during a memorial for 15-year-old Warit Somnoi, a protester who died two months after being shot during an anti-government rally, outside a police station in Bangkok on Oct. 29. (Photo: AFP)

A picture tells a thousand words, the saying goes, but in this case it’s the words of a Thai protester who was photographed late last week with large bruises on a side of his face and blood in an eye that are truly telling.

Attasith Nussa, 35, was part of a crowd that gathered outside a police station in the Din Daeng district of Bangkok on Oct. 29 demanding that police release detained pro-democracy activists.

The area has been the scene of running street battles between young protesters and police officers for months, and Attasith says he was seized by police, taken into an interrogation room inside the police station and tortured at length while being accused of setting fire to a shrine outside the station.

“[One officer] dragged me on a wooden bench and slammed my head against it twice” Attasith told a Thai online newspaper that covers human rights issues and violations in the country.

“He asked me, ‘Why did you come here and make a mess? Did you set fire to the shrine? Do you know who shot that riot police officer [who was seriously wounded on Oct. 6]? Were you involved in that shooting?’” the protester recalled.

“He asked these questions again and again. Then he hit my ribs and stomach with a wooden baton. After that, he grabbed my neck and choked me until I almost passed out.” 

They put me on a chair in an interrogation room and took my pants off. They burned the areas around my genitals with cigarettes and kicked my testicles

Other officers began choking him several times in order to get him to reveal his password to his phone, the protester said, adding that they beat him for around an hour before proceeding to lock him up at the station with other demonstrators.

Weeraphap Wongsaman, 18, described suffering a similar ordeal at the hands of several police officers that same day.

“Police officers punched and kicked me when they arrested me and brought me inside Din Daeng Police Station,” the teenager recalled, explaining that he, too, was being accused of having set fire to the shrine outside the station.

“I was handcuffed behind my back. They put me on a chair in an interrogation room and took my pants off. They burned the areas around my genitals with cigarettes and kicked my testicles,” he added.

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Weeraphap said one officer told him: “You’re lucky we do not shoot you and dump your body in a river.”

The officers then took “turns beating me up, punching and kicking me,” the young protester added.

Rights advocates say the alleged treatment of the two protesters is symptomatic of routine torture and other forms of ill-treatment in police custody in Thailand, where local authorities often act as if they were a law onto themselves.

In August, a suspected 24-year-old drug dealer was tortured to death at a police station in the northern town of Nakhon Sawan in an incident captured on security cameras.

In the footage that was leaked online by a whistleblower, Jeerapong Thanapat is seen being handcuffed at a desk inside the station while a senior officer pulls a plastic bag over his head. As the detainee continues grasping for air, four other officers hold him down for several minutes, allegedly in an attempt to get him to reveal where he had stashed narcotics and money from their sale.

Jeerapong suffocated during the interrogation. The officers involved tried to pass his death off as the result of a drug overdose before the leaked footage emerged online. 

The two democracy activists escaped with their lives and without major injuries in late October, yet their claims of having been tortured by police must be taken seriously, Human Rights Watch stresses.

“Attasith and Weeraphap’s accounts of their brutal mistreatment show that the Thai government has failed miserably to live up to its repeated pledges to end torture in police custody,” Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement late last week.

“The fact that this abuse happened not in a remote provincial jail but in downtown Bangkok demonstrates how little the police fear getting punished.” 

Riot police have fired tear gas canisters, blinding one prominent activist in one eye. They have used high-powered jets of water against schoolgirls and university students

The rights advocate has called on Thai authorities to “establish a credible and independent prosecutorial body to receive complaints of police abuse, conduct investigations and bring cases for prosecution.”

Yet it isn’t just torture in police custody that is a matter of concern; so is police brutality.

Over the past year, as young Thais have been taking to the streets to demand political change, scores of young pro-democracy activists, including women and teenagers, have been roughed up by police officers. Police in riot gear wielding batons have frequently used excessive force to disperse peaceful protesters demanding reforms in a country ruled by a military-allied government, which replaced a junta that seized power in a coup in 2014.

Riot police have fired tear gas canisters, blinding one prominent activist in one eye. They have used high-powered jets of water against schoolgirls and university students. And they have used rubber bullets against protesters, causing numerous injuries.

Late last week a 15-year-old boy died after lingering in a coma for more than two months with severe brain damage, which he suffered from being shot in the back of the head during a protest in August outside Din Daeng Police Station in Bangkok.

Police say the boy had been shot by a fellow protester, but protesters have denied this claim, saying they had seen police shoot live rounds at demonstrators on the day.

A thorough police investigation into the shooting has not been forthcoming.

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