Army defends libel suit against three rights activists

Army defends libel suit against three rights activists

The Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) insists it was libelled by a report on torture and mistreatment in the deep South by leaders of the three NGOs who produced the report. (File photos)
The Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) insists it was libelled by a report on torture and mistreatment in the deep South by leaders of the three NGOs who produced the report. (File photos)

The 4th Army Region's criminal defamation lawsuit against three human rights defenders is meant to protect its image and integrity, a military spokesman said yesterday.

But other rights activists said the move could backfire, casting the military in a negative light for bullying the whistle-blowers.

Col Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4's Forward Command, said these activists had "ill intentions" toward the Thai military and were spreading negative information in the wake of international human rights meetings at this time of the year.

"NGO workers are not privileged people who are above the law," Col Pramote told the Bangkok Post.

The report is in Thai, and was still available for download early Friday from the Voice From Thais blog site in PDF and Word formats.

The Isoc 4th Region filed a police report in Yala province on May 17 accusing Somchai Homlaor, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and Anchana Heemmina of criminal defamation under the Penal Code and publicising false information online under the Computer Crime Act.

The complaint referred to a February report by the Cross Cultural Foundation, Hearty Support Group (Duay Jai), and the Patani Human Rights Network that documented 54 cases in which security personnel allegedly tortured and mistreated ethnic-Malay Muslim insurgent suspects between 2004 and 2015.

Col Pramote said the three refused the army's requests to disclose the identities of the alleged victims, adding the 4th Army's probe team were able to identify only 18 people and they were not considered to have been tortured.

"You can't say they were tortured. Some of them may have sustained scratches or bruises while trying to escape arrest or raids," said the spokesman.

Pramote: Not above the law

If convicted, the three activists face up to five years in prison and/or a 100,000-baht fine.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the army to drop its criminal complaint.

"The Thai military is targeting human rights activists for reporting grave abuses and standing up for victims," said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director.

The military's attempted use of a criminal complaint to retaliate against human rights defenders was contrary to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's recent promise to criminalise torture and fulfil Thailand's international obligations against the practice, Mr Adams said.

Tuwaedaniya Tuwaemae-ngae, of the Academy of Patani Raya for Peace and Development, asked why the military had chosen to target local human rights defenders, not international NGOs which have been discussing the same problem.

"Is this a double standard?" asked Mr Tuwaedaniya, adding the lawsuit would undermine peace-building in the region.

One of the three accused activists defended the methodology of the report.

"We don't mean to discredit the Thai government but want to educate the community and the public about the ill practice," said Anchana Heemmina of the Duay Jai Group, adding local authorities ignored initial findings submitted to them.

"The government should investigate, not dismiss allegations of torture and other serious abuses."

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