Prachinburi Provincial Court sentencing police officials of the Prachinburi Provincial Police’s Investigation Division to one year of imprisonment and 8,000-baht-fine for committing torture against Mr. Ritthirong Chuenchit to force him to confess to pickpocketing charges
Mr. Ritthirong Chuenchit has filed complaint against police officials of the Prachinburi Provincial Police’s Investigation Division with the Prachinburi Provincial Court in the Black Case no. O925/2558. It was alleged that on 28 January 2009, the defendants have tortured him forcing him to confess to pickpocketing charges even though he had committed no such offence. The incidence allegedly took place at the Muang Prachinburi Police Station.
On 28 September 2018, the Prachinburi Provincial Court has convicted Pol Lt Col Wachiraphan Phothirat as charged while acquitting another defendant, Pol Lt Col Panya Ruendee.
Based on the evidence given, the Court has found the plaintiff had been tortured by Pol Lt Col Wachiraphan who wanted to force him to give confession. It was an offence against the Penal Code’s Sections 157, 200, 295, 309, 301, 391 and 83, for an abuse of office. The defendant was sentenced to two years of imprisonment and a fine of 12,000 baht, but given the evidence by defendant no. 3 was useful for the trial, the punishment shall be reduced by one third to one year of imprisonment and 8,000 baht of fine. Also considering the profession of the defendant and that he had no prior conviction, the one year sentence shall be on two years probation.
As to the case against Pol Lt Col Panya, not sufficient evidence has been adduced to support the claim that he had inflicted such torture on the plaintiff. It appeared that he simply opened the door and asked if the plaintiff had given his confession. Also, the plaintiff did not identify him among the perpetrators, though he was aware of the use of torture. When the door was opened and someone asked if the plaintiff had offered his confession, he was still had a bag put on his head, so it was not possible for him to see who actually asked such question. The evidence given by the plaintiff cannot be used to hold Pol Lt Col Panya liable. Given the benefit of the doubt, the defendant has been acquitted.
The Penal Code’s Section 157 provides that “Whoever, being an official, wrongfully exercises or does not exercise any of his functions to the injury of any person, or dishonestly exercises or omits to exercise any of his functions, shall be punished with imprisonment of one to ten years or fined of two thousand to twenty thousand Baht, or both.”
The Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCf) has been offering legal assistance to survivors of torture who have been forced by officials to give confession. At present, it is not easy to prove the act of torture and as a result many perpetrators have enjoyed impunity. The glaring wounds sustained by Mr. Ritthirong and his medical record have, however, been used as evidence in this case, though the legal team has to confront the exercise of power by the officials. It took the team nine years to prove the case.
After hearing the verdict, Mr. Somsak Chuenchit, father of Mr. Ritthirong has this to say “We have been waiting nine years for justice hoping that truth will prevail. Out family has become a victim of the government officials who have physically abused people by the use of torture to force them to confess to an unfounded criminal charge. What my son has been saying in the past nine years is truthful and it is not his intention to falsely accuse the police, We are just ordinary persons who already find it hard to earn our living. We would not dare to falsely accuse the police who can exercise their power as state officials and as law enforcement officials. People would not want to mess up with them. The verdict on 28 September 2018 substantiates what my son has been saying in the past nine years. It is a truth and not a smear attempt against the police. I, however, disagree with the punishment and will certainly bring this case to the Appeals Court. I have the duty to protect my family and my beloved ones. I will continue to seek justice.”
Thailand has ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) since 2007 and is obliged to ensure its domestic laws are in compliance with the Convention. In the past several years, concerned human rights organizations and state agencies have been advocating the “Draft Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance” which on 27 December 2016 has been approved by the cabinet and is now being read in the National Legislative Assembly (NLA). However, on 21 February 2017, the draft has been sent back to the cabinet.
According to the UNCAT and the Draft Act on the Prevention of Torture, it is an absolute prohibition for government officials to use torture to force a person to confess or to obtain any information. Such grave crime is not allowed in any circumstances and on any ground. And the officials who perpetrate the act and their superior officials who acquiesce to such act shall be liable for punishment. In addition, state parties are obliged to carry out an investigation into the act of torture, immediately and impartially and ensure that the survivors are provided with remedies.