By Max Constant
BANGKOK (AA) – Thailand’s military has attempted to justify its legal action over a report on cases of alleged torture in military camps in the country’s insurgency-plagued Muslim south -- which one of the accused activists insists was published with the best of intentions.
Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the Thailand-based Cross Cultural Foundation, told Anadolu Agency on Sunday, “our intention was to give a voice to the victims of torture so that they could be heard by the authorities and by the public so as to find ways to redress the wrongs.”
She underlined that the report revealed the psychological and social impact of torture.
“People in southern Thailand can still be subject to arrest and exposed to ill-treatment through the use of ‘special laws’,” she added.
Under an emergency law implemented in the three southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat -- which have been destabilized by an insurgency since 2004 – the military has impunity to act “in good faith”.
In a 120-page report published in February, the Cross Cultural Foundation, the Duay Jai group and the Patani Human Rights Network called the use of torture to obtain confessions in the area "systematic", underlining that it is "regular, widespread and intentional”.
The document -- titled Torture Situation and Inhumane, Cruel and Degrading Treatments in Southern Bordering Provinces -- has been strongly criticized by Thailand’s military government and various securities agencies.
On May 17, the southern military command filed a criminal defamation case against the rights groups’ directors -- Khongkachonkiet, Somchai Homlaor and Anchana Heemmina -- accusing them of having “ill intentions” and wanting to cast the military “negatively”.
The military also emphasized that the activists refused to disclose the names of the 54 alleged torture victims listed in the report, thereby preventing authorities from investigating.
Col. Pramote Promin, Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) spokesman for the south, told the Bangkok Post that the chief of the regional army command had instructed related agencies to probe the allegations “with transparency to punish the wrongdoers and to improve operations to boost acceptance among the general public”.
“We regard the lack of cooperation [of the three activists] as an intention to conceal information and to use the alleged victims as a tool to produce the report,” he said.
“The publishing of this report without proper fact-checking could lead to a misunderstanding in society that affects operative officers’ and the ISOC Region 4 command’s reputation.”
Khongkachonkiet, however, insisted that the rights groups had repeatedly contacted the heads of concerned military units about the torture allegations before the report’s publication.
“They only replied verbally that no violations had happened during interrogation,” she told Anadolu Agency.
She also underlined that the activists could not supply the military with the names of those interviewed “without the consent of the victims”.
“It is due to the way the military investigates. Actually, they are not trying to find the perpetrators of torture, but they only go to see the victims and intimidate them by asking ‘did you really said this to these organizations?’” Khongkachonkiet said.
“The objective of the use of torture and inhumane treatments by security forces, be they police or military, is to obtain confessions from the detained suspects,” according to the report’s introduction.
“Despite complaints by victims’ relatives and campaigns by local and international human rights organizations, the Thai state has not yet tried to solve this issue and has not taken sanctions against officials involved in the wrongful acts,” it added.
The research for the report was based on interviews with 54 victims of torture by security forces between 2004 and 2015.
It shows a steep increase in torture cases since 2014, the same year the Thai military overthrew the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in a coup and seized power.
According to the report, there were 17 alleged torture cases in 2014 and 15 in 2015, compared to seven in 2013 and none in 2012 -- incidents inflicted at the time of the arrest, during the transportation to the military camp and during detention in the camp.
No Thai military, paramilitary or police officer has ever been sentenced by a criminal court in alleged torture cases.
The closest any has come to being penalized was in the case of 25-year-old Ashari Sama-ae, who died in detention without charge in 2007.
Last August, the country's Supreme Administrative Court ordered the government to pay $28,000 dollars as financial compensation to his mother.
The southern insurgency is rooted in a century-old ethno-cultural conflict between Malay Muslims living in the southern region and the Thai central state where Buddhism is considered the de-facto national religion.
Armed groups were formed in the 1960s after the then-military dictatorship tried to interfere in Islamic schools, but the insurgency faded in the 1990s.
In 2004, a rejuvenated armed movement -- composed of numerous local cells of fighters loosely grouped around a rebel group called the National Revolutionary Front -- emerged.
The confrontation, which has killed 6,400 people and injured over 11,000 since 2004, is one of the deadliest low-intensity conflicts on the planet.