Thai rights activists charged

Thai army soldiers practice tactical maneuvers during military operations on urban terrain training in Lop Buri, Thailand, May 18, 2006, while participating in Cobra Gold 2006. The exercise is a combined annual joint training exercise between the United States, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, and Indonesia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Efren Lopez) (Released)

The insurgency in southern Thailand has been the focal point of the Thai military’s attention for more than a decade. Source: Wikimedia

Three Thai rights campaigners have been charged with criminal defamation over a report claiming torture was conducted by troops in the unstable provinces of southern Thailand.

The three provinces near the Malaysian border have seen a longstanding Muslim insurgency. More than 6,500 people have been killed in the southern insurgency since 2004 in regular bombings, beheadings, shootings and assassinations.

There has been an increase in the use of criminal defamation laws against government critics in recent years.

The three human rights activists face up to two years in prison if found guilty of defaming the armed forces and a further three years if convicted under the computer crimes act.

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Anchana Heemmina and Somchai Homlaor published an extensive report in February based on testimonies from 54 people who had reportedly been tortured while in military custody.

It alleged sensory deprivation, violence, threats at gunpoint and “partial suffocation”.

Amnesty International said that since the 2014 coup, Thai junta has stepped up efforts to stifle dissent, including restricting freedom of expression, assembly and association. “In the past three months alone, authorities have initiated charges against more than 100 individuals for opposing a draft constitution that is the subject of a August 7 national referendum,” Amnesty said.

The military demanded the report’s sources be named but the researchers refused, citing safety concerns.

The insurgency in Thailand’s south is Asean’s longest-running war.

Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said the charges made a mockery of Thai promises to introduce anti-torture legislation.

“At a time when the Thai government has promised to introduce anti-torture legislation, it is a cruel paradox that they are harassing activists for exposing the abhorrent practice,” said Salil Shetty.

“The Thai authorities should immediately stop the criminal investigation, drop the charges against these three activists and order an independent and impartial investigation into the very serious human rights violations they have raised. It is the state’s duty to protect human rights activists, not to shield security forces from accountability.

“If this can happen to three well-known activists then the message the military government is sending is that no one is beyond their reach and no one is safe,” added Salil Shetty.

Pornpen chairs Amnesty International in Thailand.

Last year, a court acquitted a Thai and an Australian journalist in a parallel case after they reported on alleged cooperation between the Thai armed forces and human traffickers.