Thai police: Licence to kill

Thailand’s scandal-ridden police force, which has not even spared a four-year-old boy from torture, is taking flak from the country’s premier lawyer’s body. It follows revelations of brutal excesses by an elite police unit. The angry reaction from the Law Society of Thailand (LST) came in the wake of almost daily media reports since Feb. 26 about the ‘inhuman and brutal’ measures used by policemen attached to a Border Patrol Police (BPP) unit on innocent civilians arrested on alleged drug-trafficking offences.

The LST, in fact, announced plans to set up its own inquiries about the latest reports of torture by the elite police unit that came to light after one of its victims, a 42-year-old woman, lodged a complaint with a Bangkok police station in late January. Piengjit Peungon reported that she, her 15-year-old son, a friend and a maid had been kidnapped and abused by a gang of 13. During that four-day ordeal, the BPP officers had demanded Piengjit pay them 8.68 million baht (263,000 US dollars) for her release and that of the others.

Subsequent revelations have shown that this gang, led by 28-year-old Captain Nat Chonnithiwanit, had not even paused when another female victim of theirs pleaded for mercy on account of being two-months pregnant. Jutharporn Noorod, a silver jewellery seller in Bangkok, was tortured with “electric shocks” through the night in a room at a hotel in the Thai capital.

By the weekend, there were nearly 60 reports of torture that had come to light, with some victims, who had remained silent out of fear, reporting abuse that had taken place as back as 2004. Nat, in fact, had benefited from the impressive rewards the police

give its officers in cracking down on drugs. “His arrest record made him come across as an efficient officer pursuing drug cases,” the source added. “He also stuck to the tradition in

the Thai police of junior officers always giving credit to their bosses for being involved in the arrests.”

Similar abuse has been common before, too, when a former government launched a ‘war on drugs’ to rid this South-east Asian nation of a disturbingly high drug habit, mainly methamphetamines, or ‘ya ba’, as it is known in Thai. Over 2,500 people were killed during that anti-drug campaign in 2003 after the government of the day, headed by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, endorsed a policy of ‘’licence to kill’’ in going after suspected drug traffickers.

According to the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), such scale of abuse goes back to the 1950s, when the police force was ‘built’ by police general Phao Sriyanond, a former army general. “It took on paramilitary functions through new special units, including the border police. It ran the drug trade, carried out abductions and killings with impunity, and was used as a political base for Phao and his associates.”

Thai human rights activists who have been campaigning to end torture admit that the absence of a strong accountability mechanism hampers their efforts. “When the police are asked about torture complaints we are often told that they are under investigation,” Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, coordinator of the Working Group on Justice for Peace, said. “But the public are not informed about the actual progress of such investigations.” — IPS