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Thailand: New probe urged into Thai Muslim lawyer’s disappearance

12th Mar 2016
Thailand: New probe urged into Thai Muslim lawyer’s disappearance

By Max Constant

 

BANGKOK (AA) – Twelve years after the disappearance of a prominent Thai Muslim human rights lawyer, a United States-based rights group called on Thailand’s military government Friday to reopen the investigation into the case and to make all information publicly available.

On March 12, 2004, Somchai Neelapaijit, chairman of Thailand’s Muslim Lawyer Association, was forced into a car by five alleged policemen in Bangkok and no sighting of him has been reported since.

He is presumed to have been murdered after the abduction.

Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement Friday that “Thai authorities’ failure to treat Somchai’s ‘disappearance’ as a likely abduction and murder undermines their credibility”.

“Because Thailand doesn’t recognize enforced disappearance as a crime, the authorities have avoided inquiring too closely into those who actually ordered Somchai’s abduction and know what happened to him,” he added.

The five suspects, all police officers who were initially identified by witnesses, were only charged with coercion and robbery due to Thai law not legally recognizing “enforced disappearance”.

Although one of the policemen had been sentenced to three years in jail at the criminal court level for “assaulting Somchai Neelapaijit”, an appeals court later dismissed the charges against all five for “lack of evidence” — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court last December.

The Supreme Court also ruled that Angkhana Neelapaijit, Somchai’s wife, could not act on behalf of her disappeared husband, on the grounds that “there was no concrete evidence that Somchai was dead or otherwise incapable of bringing the case himself”.

Angkhana, now a member of Thailand’s human rights commission, had expressed to Anadolu Agency in January her great disappointment with the ruling.

“The judges only read the law from the book, but they were not interested by the facts,” she said.

As an example, Angkhana emphasized that it was clear to many observers — including the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists — that the main female witness in the case was so scared of those accused that she could not even look at them.

“She did not dare even turn her face towards them,” said Angkhana, who has herself been placed under a witness protection program because of the threats she has received in relation to the case.

In 2006, then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra admitted that government officials had been involved in Somchai’s abduction and killing.

“I know Somchai is dead, circumstantial evidence indicated that.

And there were more than four government officials implicated by the investigation,” he had said.

In Friday’s statement, Human Rights Watch called on the Thai junta, which seized power in a May 2014 coup, to ratify the International Convention on Enforced Disappearance so that the country’s authorities would be compelled to include enforced disappearance in the criminal code.

Thailand signed the Convention in 2012, but has made little progress in ratifying the treaty.

Referring to Thailand’s junta leader who became prime minister after the 2014 coup, Adams said, “Somchai’s case will hang over General [Prayuth Chan-ocha’s] government until his fate is explained and those responsible are punished.”

A draft law on enforced disappearance was written in 2013, but has never been approved by the cabinet.

Despite some flaws, the draft law — if passed — would mark significant progress as it would allow relatives of victims to act as plaintiffs.

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances has recorded 82 cases in Thailand since 1980 — none of which have been successfully resolved.

The figure is unlikely to represent the full scope of such cases, as relatives are typically afraid of speaking publicly about a victim’s disappearance for fear of reprisals.

In one of the latest cases, witnesses saw three men drag Fadel Sohmarn, 28, into a car and drive away on Jan. 24 in the southern province of Pattani, where a Muslim insurgency has been waged against the central government for decades.

 

[Photo: Somchai Neelapaijit human rights lawyer disappeared 12 March 2004. Photographer: Desaparecdos1]

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