After a two-year investigation, Amnesty International (AI) has documented 74 cases of torture in Thailand. The group released its report, which noted the rise of torture incidents after the army grabbed power in 2014, on September 28 .
Some of the torture methods allegedly used by state forces include “beatings, suffocation by plastic bags, strangling by hand or rope, waterboarding, electric shocks to the genitals, and other forms of public humiliation.”
AI expressed concern that the country’s penal code does not define torture as a distinct criminal offense. Furthermore, the law does not clearly prohibit the admission of evidence obtained through torture.
AI warned that it will be difficult to stop torture if the junta will continue to implement repressive laws like the one that allows the unsupervised detention of individuals for up to seven days. This law was passed after the coup as an emergency measure to protect the security of the state.
Even the “attitude-adjustment” sessions conducted by the army were described by AI as a form of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” because it involved “incommunicado detention, exertion of psychological pressures, prolonged blindfolding, and restrictive conditions of release.”
AI also reported the use of torture in the government’s counterinsurgency program in the southern region. The imposition of martial law in the “deep south,” where a separatist movement has existed since 2004, provided the army with vast powers that led to some abuses.
The report also pressed for the protection of migrants, drug users, and other vulnerable sectors who are often targeted by police operations. These groups often become victims of extortion and public humiliation.
AI urged Thai authorities to immediately pass the “Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act” as a “significant step towards preventing torture in the country.” The draft law is already pending at the National Legislative Assembly. One of its provisions would prohibit the practice of getting “confessions” and other statements through torture or ill-treatment.
AI also underscored the importance of punishing the perpetrators of torture: “Thai authorities will need to reverse the widespread impunity enjoyed by the security services and establish military and police cultures that respect and protect individuals from all sectors of society.”
AI was supposed to discuss this report, titled “Make Him Speak by Tomorrow: Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Thailand,” in a press briefing on September 28, but police officers and some labor officials intervened and warned that foreigners who spoke at the event would be arrested for failing to secure proper working permits.
The order was surprising since AI officials had reportedly been in contact with the Thailand government prior to the event. In addition, preventing the AI officials from speaking is futile since the report is already available online.
“The Thai authorities should be addressing torture, not human rights activists doing their legitimate work. Instead of threatening us with arrest and prosecution, they should be holding the perpetrators of torture accountable,” said AI in a press statement.
Laurent Meillan, the acting regional representative of the UN Human Rights Office, criticized the action of the local police since it “raises serious questions about the ability of international organizations to stage public events in Thailand.”
The Bangkok Post published an editorial which also decried the attempt to stop AI from discussing the torture report. “If the government has nothing to hide, the public release of a research document about its policies and performance by an international organization should serve as a perfect forum to defend itself against critics,” the editorial said.
Perhaps realizing the mistake of the police, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement assuring the international community that the government welcomes the report of AI as an additional information that can help improve its human rights work and ensuring transparency in the judicial process. But it also reminded the public that the AI report has yet to be verified.
“The information contained in the report is yet to be verified, especially for cases in which the alleged victims remain anonymous. Relevant authorities are currently in the process of examining its accuracy,” the ministry emphasized.
Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry described AI as an ally in human rights advocacy. It insisted that the government has been consistently implementing concrete measures to stop the practice of torture. It also clarified that Thailand is a state party to the UN Convention against Torture.
Indeed, the government of Thailand should study the torture report, validate the cases documented by AI, and enact concrete measures to strengthen human rights mechanisms in all levels of the bureaucracy. The government can also persuade the legislative assembly to prioritize the passage of the proposed new law against torture.