Protesters hold up images of Sirawith Seritiwat, who was beaten up by unknown assailants, with a sign that reads 'We are all Ja New' during a rally against the attack in Bangkok on July 3, 2019. (Photo: Candida Ng/AFP)
Thai police say they have stopped looking for the four men who clobbered Sirawith "Ja New" Seritiwat, a prominent rights activist, with batons on a Bangkok street last June, nearly killing him.
In a statement issued online on Feb. 20, police said they have suspended their investigation “on the grounds that evidence gathered could not identify who was involved.”
Numerous people expressed outrage at the decision on social media, arguing that it was another example of Thailand’s culture of impunity. “Did anyone seriously think any other outcome was likely?” said one skeptical commenter.
In the Southeast Asian nation, laws are often ignored by the powerful or applied selectively by law enforcement.
Crimes committed against rights activists and government critics routinely go unpunished. Police usually cite a lack of evidence against alleged perpetrators or quietly drop their investigation.
On June 28 last year, Sirawith, a 27-year-old pro-democracy activist, was set upon in broad daylight by four men who proceeded to bludgeon him before fleeing on two motorcycles. He sustained severe head injuries and required intensive care in a hospital.
“When will [police] catch them? Are the perpetrators well connected?” Sirawith wondered in a Facebook post on Feb. 20.
The attack was captured on a CCTV camera but police have said the footage wasn’t clear enough to allow investigators to make positive identifications of the attackers, who had their faces covered.
A few weeks prior to that attack, on June 2, the activist had been assaulted by a group of men after a pro-democracy protest in central Bangkok. On that occasion he escaped with minor injuries.
Pro-democracy campaigners suspect that in both instances the young activist was assaulted by undercover soldiers or people linked to Thailand’s powerful military.
Several other pro-democracy campaigners were similarly attacked last year. Some suffered serious injuries requiring long-term medical treatment. The perpetrators have not been identified in those cases.
Sirawith has been an outspoken critic of Thailand’s military regime since the army’s overthrow of a democratically elected government in a coup in 2014.
Prayut Chan-o-cha, the army chief who spearheaded the coup, remains the country’s prime minister following parliamentary elections last March after five years of military rule.
Although nominally a civilian government, Prayut’s administration enjoys the backing of the powerful armed forces and the conservative ruling elite.