Thailand: New report reveals 'culture of torture' since military coup

Since seizing power in a 2014 coup, Thailand’s military has encouraged a culture of torture and other ill-treatment to take hold across the country, with soldiers and policemen targeting suspected insurgents, political opponents, and individuals from the most vulnerable sections of society, a new report by Amnesty International said today.

The report, “Make Him Speak by Tomorrow”: Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Thailand, documents 74 cases of torture at the hands of soldiers and the police, including beatings, suffocation by plastic bags, strangling by hand or rope, waterboarding, electric shocks of the genitals, and other forms of humiliation and abuse.

Martial law and post-coup decrees have authorised soldiers to impose incommunicado detention on individuals in unofficial sites for up to a week, during which time many victims interviewed by Amnesty said they were subjected to torture. As well as the army, Thailand’s police have also used torture and other ill-treatment against a wide range of people including migrants, suspected drug users and members of ethnic minorities. Amnesty has been told that these abuses have accelerated since the coup.

Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific, said:

“Empowered by laws of their own making, Thailand’s military rulers have allowed a culture of torture to flourish, where there is no accountability for the perpetrators and no justice for the victims.

“Most victims are too afraid to speak out. When they come forward to complain, the courts tend to ignore them. And yet, the same courts are willing to accept coerced confessions, even after they are retracted. The torturers are not punished for their crimes but the victims are condemned to one injustice after another.

“Torture does not just humiliate the victim. It also debases the perpetrator, hollowing out their humanity. The safeguards to prevent torture do not just protect the detainees. They also protect the uniformed officials who hold them in custody and the state they represent.”

In an environment where few dare to criticise the authorities publicly, and human rights activists face charges of criminal defamation for speaking out publicly about torture, many accounts of torture and other ill-treatment have remained untold. The report brings to light harrowing testimony from survivors and their families, whilst preserving their anonymity for security reasons.

‘Please shoot me and send my corpse to my family’

Soon after the coup, “Tul” – not his real name – was arrested by the army and held at an undisclosed location for seven days, during which time he was repeatedly tortured using severe beatings and other methods.

“They put a plastic bag on my head until I fainted, and then poured a bucket of cold water on me,” he told Amnesty International. “They applied electro-shock to my penis and chest. I was restrained, my legs tied, and my face covered with tape and a plastic bag.”

Following what he described as “the worst day” of his ordeal, “Tul” appealed to the soldiers to end his life. “Please shoot me,” he pleaded with his tormentors, “and send my corpse to my family.”

‘Make him speak by tomorrow’

The report reveals that a culture which enables and encourages torture permeates the Thai military. One of the people interviewed for the report, a former junior commander in the Royal Thai Army stated that soldiers assigned to interrogate detainees are often told to “make him speak by tomorrow.”

“An officer gets punished if he doesn’t get results,” the former junior commander told Amnesty. “In the army, people use force to control, not thought. An order is final…If you don’t get results, you will be punished.”

Legal incentives to torture

Despite being a party to the UN Convention against Torture and legally obliged to respect its provisions, there is still no law in Thailand specifically criminalising torture. Thai law also gives judges the discretion to allow “evidence” obtained through torture in courts. Investigations into complaints are rare, as are prosecutions.

This state of affairs is exacerbated by a post-coup legal framework that gives military officers the power to detain people arbitrarily, consigning them for up to seven days to undisclosed locations where acts of torture cannot be seen and the suffering of victims cannot be heard.

Recommendations

Amnesty’s report ending unaccountable detention, criminalising torture, banning the use of “evidence” obtained by torture and other ill-treatment, investigating reports of torture and bringing those responsible to justice, creating an independent monitoring body to carry out oversight of detention facilities, and providing remedies to victims. Thailand is currently preparing a draft Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act, which could criminalise torture and establish other safeguards against torture. 

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