For immediate release on 18 November 2016 (English version)
27 November, the three human rights defenders set to meet inquiry official at Pattani Police Station to give more evidence: In pursuance to the Security Operations Command Region 4 (ISOC 4) suing them as a result of their launch of the report “Torture and ill treatment in The Deep South”
The Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 (ISOC 4) Forward has complaint to the inquiry official, Pol Lt Col Winyou Thiamrat, inquiry official of the Muang Pattani Police Station alleging that Mr. Somchai Homlaor, Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Ms. Anchana Heemmina, the three Human Rights Defenders had committed a criminal defamation and a violation of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act. They were accused of publishing and disseminating the report “Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment in the Deep South Documented in 2014-2015” and for bringing into a computer system the document causing damage to the ISOC’s reputation. The three human rights defenders denied the charges.
On 27 November 2016 around 11.00, the three alleged offenders with lawyers leading by Mr. Abdulkohar Awaeputae, President of the Muslim Attorney Centre (MAC), Pattani, have met with the inquiry officer to give more evidence. Previously, they had already denied all the charges and also will submit a request for police to acquire more evidences including key witnesses. The police was requested to explore more evidences prior to decide whether to prosecute them or not. This would also allow the alleged offenders to have their right to fair trial and the inquiry officer to hear more information that proves the innocence of the alleged offenders.
Torture is a gross violation of human rights and is a violation to national and international laws. Thailand has become a state party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the government is obliged to act to prevent and suppress torture. When a claim of torture has arisen, the government is invariably obliged to carry out its investigation in order to bring the perpetrators to justice and to ensure that the victims have access to remedies. In the past several years, the three HRDs have been working in human rights organizations which receive complaints from torture victims and help them to get the remedies as well as to propose to the government and concerned agencies about measures to prevent and suppress torture in the Southern Border Provinces.
During 2013-2015, their organizations were funded by the UN Voluntary Fund for Torture Victims) to document testimonies of the torture victims and to help them have access to remedies. The information has been compiled in the report “Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment in the Deep South Documented in 2014-2015”. And it was aimed to recommend to the government and concerned parties ways through they can address the issue of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in the Deep South as part of the effort to ensure justice and peace on a sustainable basis in the area. It is therefore very inappropriate that their working on the report has prompted the ISOC to file criminal charges against them. The three human rights defenders would face up to7 years imprisonment if found guilty.
For more information, please contact Mr. Abdulkohar Awaeputae, attorney, phone 081-8987408
Ms. Nadthasiri Bergman , CrCF, phone 0851208077 (English speaking)
Background information (source: https://www.amnesty.or.th/news/press/831)
Mr. Somchai Homlaor is a senior adviser and former Chairperson of the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) whereas Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet CrCF’s Director. The organization has been documenting human rights violation cases and Ms. Pornpen has just been elected as the Chair of the Executive Board of Amnesty International Thailand in June 2016. It was in fact the second time the Royal Thai Army has sued CrCF for libel as a result of their reports on torture committed by the government officials. Ms. Anchana Heemmina is founder and Director of Duay Jai Group which has been providing legal assistance to families of suspects in security related cases in the Southern Border Provinces.
Right after the three organizations including the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), Duay Jai Group and the Patani Human Rights Network have launched the report “Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment in the Deep South Documented in 2014-2015” in February 2016, the spokesperson of the Royal Thai Army has accused them of fabricating the information in the report simply to draw in funding support from abroad and questing the legitimacy of the officials’ implementation. The army spokesperson even threatened that the act was considered libelous as it touches on the issue about international law.
On 17 May 2016, the ISOC Region 4 which is in charge of security affairs in the Southern Border Provinces has filed charges on criminal defamation and violation of the 2007 Computer Crime Act against the three HRDs as part of the editorial of the report. The army official claimed the charges had to be filed since the report had tarnished the image of the Royal Thai Army and previously, the activists had refused to cooperate with the authorities when they had been asked to provide more detail about cases documented in the report.
Previously, Mr. Somchai Homlaor and Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet had received summonses requesting them to report themselves to the inquiry official in August 2014. Then, the Royal Thai Army had accused them of damaging their reputation by intentionally distorting the information and disseminating false information to public. It stemmed from the distribution of an open letter in late April 2014 calling for an investigation into the alleged act of torture by government officials. But the public prosecutor deiced to drop the charges against them in September 2015.
HRDs have increasingly found themselves slapped with criminal defamation cases as a result of their peaceful activism to defend the rights and to demand remedies to the victims. In addition, the authorities often quickly brushed aside any accusation about torture committed by the officials claiming that it was simply a smear attempt to discredit the army to serve personal interest of somebody. Moreover, the authorities have often come out to threaten to file criminal defamation against any person who make reports or accusations about torture or even those who have criticized the government including the actual criticism and those perceived as a criticism.
The use of criminal defamation law is a breach to Thailand’s obligation to protect and uphold the right to freedom of expression per the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Thailand is a state party. The UN Human Rights Committee has urged all states to consider to revoke criminal defamation and emphasized that the drafting of libel law has to be done with utmost care to ensure that the government would be able to act in compliance with its obligations and to not infringe on the right to freedom of expression at the practical level.