Tuesday, 7 March 2017

HRD Pornpen Khongkachonkiet face charged for exposing torture report

Case: HRD face charged with “computer crimes” and “criminal defamation” for exposing torture report
Status: Summons
Violations: Judicial Harassment

Profile of Pornpen Khongkachonkiet

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet is a human rights defender, Chair of Amnesty International Thailand and Director of the Cross Cultural Foundation, an organisation which monitors and documents cases of torture and ill-treatment in Thailand. 

Ms Pornpen has been involved in various Human Rights issues both in Thailand and the region, including women’s rights, indigenous rights and preventing forced disappearances. Her work serves the public interest by ensuring that authorities are held accountable and pressuring authorities to unconditionally respect the Human Rights of all. As Director and President of the Cross Cultural Foundation

About the situation

On 10 February 2016, a report entitled Torture and ill-treatment in The Deep South Documented in 2014-2015, co-edited by the three human rights defenders, was released. The report documented 54 cases of inhumane treatment in detention. On 8 January 2016, the report was sent to Mr Wiwat Pathompak, Commander of the 4th Army Region, whose representatives subsequently denounced the report calling it a work of fiction aimed at discrediting the Thai Army.

On 17 May 2016, the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 (ISOC 4) has reported a case with the inquiry official at the Muang Pattani Police Station alleging that Mr Somchai Homlaor, Ms Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Ms Anchana Heemmina, three human rights defenders, had committed criminal defamation and a violation of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act.

On 8 June 2016, the human rights defenders were informed of a complaint filed against them for criminal defamation and computer-related violations, by a unit of the Thai military devoted to national security issues.

On 26 July 2016, three prominent human rights defenders in Thailand reported to the police to hear defamation and computer crimes accusations that have been brought against them by the Royal Thai Army. Ms Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Ms Anchana Heemmina and Mr Somchai Homlaor were accused of these charges after co-editing a report that documents cases of alleged torture in detention in Thailand. The report, Torture and ill-treatment in The Deep South Documented in 2014-2015, was published on 10 February 2016 and recorded 54 cases of inhumane treatment while in Thai detention.

Pornpen's view on human rights violations in the Deep South, Thailand

She gave an interview to Prachatai about her human rights work, and the intimidation she has suffered from the authorities.

Q: What have you been doing with the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights? 
 I have been providing legal assistance for people who can’t access justice. My work primarily focuses on people in the conflict areas of the Deep South, which have been under the emergency decree since 2005 and the Internal Security Act (ISA) since 2008. I’m helping those who have been affected by these laws. 

Q: After the coup d’état, has there been any change in the three southern provinces? Communications have become more difficult. The junta has closed down many community radio stations in the South. Do you think people in the Deep South welcome these changes after the coup? I don’t really know for sure, but as I mentioned, communication gets more difficult. The voices from lively radio stations are now silent and people find it more difficult to talk in public. 

Q: Who has been most affected by these changes, resulting from the military coup? 
Well, generally, ordinary people are affected of course. The situation hasn’t significantly changed. Before the coup, villagers, students, even Imams (Islamic religion leaders) were being arrested arbitrarily by the state, now they are still being arrested if the military and the police think that they support the Muslim separatist groups. It has been like this for a decade since they declared the emergency decree. 

What are the effects of Martial Law, the emergency law and ISA in the Deep South? 
Martial Law has given the military tremendous extrajudicial power. The authority does not need to present the warrants at the time of arrests. The authority can also hold suspects in custody for 7 days without any legal restriction. The emergency decree is subjected to judicial review on its detention; court warrant is needed and the authority must ask for the extension every 7 days maximum 30 days from the court. Both Martial law and ED is enforced in the three provinces; Narathivath, Pattani and Yala. 

Do you think that the emergency law and ISA are counter-productive and driven more people to join the separatists? 
I don’t know for sure, but after an episode of violent clashes in 2004, there was a backlash that might have driven some people to join the separatists. 

Do you think people in the Deep South want the peace dialogue between Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) and the Thai state officials like the one in February last year to be organised again? 
Surely most of them do. People in the Deep South were excited about the peace talk that was held earlier last year. Many were talking about it through local radio stations and on other media. 

When did the torture cases in the Deep South start to intensify? 
It escalated after the unrests in January 2004, when the separatists stole 400 guns from an armoury and killed four soldiers in Narathiwat. This incident resulted in the violent repercussions from the state at Krue Se and Takbai in the same year. These incidents were followed by the disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit. He was involved with torture cases because at the beginning he was the one who provided legal aid to torture victims. 

What are the major human rights violations in the restive Deep South? 
I gave priority to torture and ill-treatments. The number of cases related to enforced disappearance has decreased so far. Prior to 2004 and few years after, there were a lot of disappearance cases resulting from the escalation of violence in the Deep South that year and the state officials’ hard-handed approach to counter the insurgents. 

There were so many people who disappeared that year and it was difficult to keep track of them because most of them were grassroots people with no documentations and some were spies of the insurgent's groups. I think a lot of disappearance cases are connected with torture. Most of the people who went missing were torture victims. The perpetrator could not return the torture victims to their communities after their traumatic experiences. There are around 30 disappearance cases documented in the Deep South between 2003-2012. 

Can you approximate the number of victims of torture? 
Well, many of these cases were not recorded. Our organisation only started to record the torture cases in 2007. I believe that arbitrary arrests and tortures and other forms of abuse of power of the authority have been going on for a long time in the Deep South before we started our work here. 

The Muslim Attorney Center (MAC) has recorded approximately 300 such cases. We have recorded slightly more than 100 cases and National Human Rights Commission has recorded another 100 cases. There might be some overlap in these figures, but not much. No matter what, from these figures, we know that they are hundreds of cases like this where Muslim people in the Deep South were being tortured and forced to confess. 

We will keep monitoring that the torture and other forms of ill-treatment are absolutely prohibited but it was not the case in the Deep South till today. You officially submitted the report on torture in the Deep South to UN CAT (Convention Against Torture) committee at the office of the United Nations in Geneva on April 29-1 May 2014. 

What were the responses of the UN officials? 
The commission had carefully inquired the report in detailed, but there are many questions that there was not been any official statement by the Thai government to the CAT committee. 

How did Thailand’s representatives respond to the inquiries regarding the report from UN CAT committee? 
The Thai authorities did not know much about what was happening in the Deep South in relation to torture as they denied that torture did not happen so they did not have details to discuss. So they did not say much of anything when they were asked for more clarifications of torture cases. 

Have the human rights violations in the Deep South become worse after the coup d’état? There hasn’t been any significant increase in numbers of cases, but nothing has changed. Cases of torture by the authority in the region are still occurring. Sometimes when the insurgents raid the military compounds or bomb certain areas then the authority will arrest more people and many might be subjected to torture and ill-treatments. 

Is it more difficult for you to work in the Deep South after the coup? 
It has become more difficult in the Deep South and also throughout Thailand, there is limited space for civil and political rights activism. 

What do you think about the justice system and human rights violations in Thailand after the coup? What do you think? 
It is deteriorating and difficult to monitor the human rights violations due to the lacking capacity of CSOs and NGOs working on civil and political rights. The military operations are huge and much larger that NGOs communities. 

What do you think would be the most effective solution to the southern conflict? 
The Thai state needs to accept the identity and ways of life of the Muslim people. Democracy is a crucial component of this solution because people in this region would be able to participate and have a say in how they will be governed. They want their decisions to be taken into account in the economic, social, political, and cultural development of the region. However, the political channel is closed and they can’t take part in this. They still don’t have their say in how the economy of their homeland should be developed or even in their choice of language in dealing with the state officials. They can’t express their cultural identity completely. 

Some people think that Muslims in the Deep South have enjoyed many benefits that the Thai state could possibly provide. Some Thai state officials think that by giving the Muslims in the Deep South rights to practice religion, build mosques, and retain their Muslim last names, they should be satisfied. However, their distinctive identity and glorious history of the independent Pattani Kingdom have not been embraced by the state. If they want to be independent, then the Thai state should talk to them and see how much autonomy the state should provide. 

The previous peace talks failed because they were not between the state and all the parties in the conflict, but were only between the National Security Council (NSC) and separatist representatives with the Malaysian government as mediator. But these talks were not inclusive of all the parties in the conflict. Muslim people in the Deep South want to have freedom to determine their lives, but under the military rule, they can’t. Since the start political turmoil in November 2013, prior to the coup, there has not been any further discussion between the Thai state and insurgent groups. 

During the peace talk in March 2013, some representatives of the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the main separatist group, were forced to attend the talks, and when they came back, some of them were afraid to be arrested by the state authorities. Moreover, former political prisoners, detainees, women, and other minorities in the region still have no voice. Nothing has changed. Actually, the fact that this conflict has been protracted for a decade also has implications about how capable of the Thai state is.

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