Military under pressure on two fronts

Military under pressure on two fronts

When these four security suspects emerged from military interrogation, they said they had been beaten and electrocuted - charges the National Human Rights Commission will investigate. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)
When these four security suspects emerged from military interrogation, they said they had been beaten and electrocuted - charges the National Human Rights Commission will investigate. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

The National Human Rights Commission will visit arrested suspects who claim they were tortured during military interrogation, while in the Northeast, villagers are demanding the military give them back their right to comment publicly on local development projects.

In Bangkok, the NHRC said Sunday that members will meet four suspects linked to the March 7 Criminal Court grenade attack to investigate an allegation they were tortured while being held in military custody.

A visit to Bangkok Remand Prison, where the four suspects are detained, is scheduled this Wednesday when NHRC member Niran Pitakwatchara.

At the same time, the commission's sub-panel on human and political rights will begin a probe into the alleged tortures, which have been denied by military and police officers.

The NHRC needs to uncover the facts, Mr Niran said yesterday, following several complaints that prompted the commission to step in.

The issue will be treated separately from legal proceeding against the suspects, which is being carried out by police, he said.

Charnwit Jariyanukul, Wichai Yoosuk, Sansern Sriounruen and Norapat Lueapol are among 12 suspects arrested for their alleged involvement in throwing a RDG-5 grenade into the Criminal Court's car park on Ratchadaphisek Road.

The four suspects' complaints over being beaten and given electric shocks by soldiers were revealed by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Centre (TLHR), a non-governmental organisation, last Wednesday.

The army denies mistreating the suspects while they were in its custody.

The TLHR also claimed the suspects are loath to seek legal help after the army vowed to take legal action against people who make "baseless accusations".

In the Northeast, villagers have called on the military to allow residents affected by development projects to voice their concerns over the impact of the projects.

They said community rights have been violated since the coup staged on May 22 last year.

"Abundant natural resources in Isan [the Northeast region] have being exploited by the state and business sectors," said Alongkorn Akkasaeng, a lecturer from Mahasarakham University's College of Politics and Governance.

He was referring to several controversial projects approved by the Prayut Chan-o-cha government in the Northeast concerning petroleum exploration and production, mines and timber.

"Conflicts between villagers and the state have prolonged and worsened, as the coup-maker allows the state to exert military power to tackle civilians and villagers," the academic told a recent forum concerning the impact of martial law.

He said imposing martial law on villagers who try to protect their rights is unfair.

Military officers have forced villagers to abandon protest movements against the projects even though they stand to be affected.

By strange contrast, the military allowed health officials to gather at the Public Health Ministry on March 12 to show support for permanent secretary Narong Sahametapat, who was transferred to an inactive post recently.

Villagers echoed the views of Mr Alongkorn.

"We feel as if our voices have grown smaller and smaller since the coup," said Pornthip Hongchai, who spoke for villagers in Loei's Wang Saphung district.

Wang Saphung villagers have protested against a gold mine in the area for more than a decade as they believe the mine causes health and environmental impacts.

In May last year, villagers were attacked by 300 men believed to be linked to the mine. Tungkum Co, the mine operator, denies involvement.

The military stepped into the conflict and, citing martial law, prohibited villagers from continuing their anti-mine campaign.

The villagers claimed soldiers banned them from gathering even to share a meal. The conflict between them and the mine still persists.

The Khon Kaen-based student activists group "Dao Din" also claimed they were threatened by soldiers when they went to visit villagers in Wang Saphung.

In Muang district of Chaiyaphum, at least 40 families have signed a document returning land to the state under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)'s policy to reclaim encroached state land, particularly in forest areas. The villagers say soldiers forced them to sign.

It came despite an agreement signed between villagers and state agencies in 1982, two years after the area was declared as part of Tat Ton National Park's boundary, which allowed villagers to stay there.

Many more families are being forced to leave the 4,000 rai section of land they call home, they said.

"The NCPO's order allows officers to seize land without listening to the villagers," said Vichai Jermpru, a villager in Chaiyaphum.

"Some were told that if they don't return the land, they will face legal action.

"We are living in fear," he said.

Villagers fighting development projects in the Northeast have now formed the "New Isan Network" group to strengthen their voice on human rights issues.

Their network includes villagers from Loei, Chaiyaphum, Kalasin, Buri Ram, Khon Kaen and villagers along the Chi River basin.

"We are not a group of outlaws who will stir violence but we do have the legal right to call for justice and equality," the network said.

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