By Sasiwan Mokkhasen and Todd Ruiz
BANGKOK — The chief suspect in August's bombing of the Erawan Shrine has claimed top military and police officers were present when he was told he would be killed if he did not confess to the crime.
In a letter obtained by Khaosod English, Adem Karadag, the Chinese Uighur man identified by police as the “yellow shirt” man who on Aug. 17 left the bomb which killed 20 people at the shrine, alleges that he confessed to carrying out the bombing while in pain and fear of further torture, during part of which top officials including the former and current police chiefs were present.
The Jan. 22 letter from Karadag, aka Bilal Mohammed, appealed for help from the president of the U.S.-based Uyghur American Association. It alleges a session of physical and psychological abuse on Sept. 22 that culminated in him signing an untranslated confession.
“The fact that I told the officers that I am the person in the pictures was because I wanted the officers to stop torturing me, and at the time I was suffering from severe stomach pain,” Karadage wrote. While his authorship of the letter could not be independently verified, the letter was originally sent from his attorney Schoochart Kanpai.
Karadag’s arrest Aug. 29 in an apartment in eastern Bangkok provided the first break in the investigation. Co-defendant Yusufu Mieraili was taken into Thai custody near the border with Cambodia on Sept. 1. The first hearing in their trial opened before a military tribunal this morning.
His letter indicates he signed the confession after being abused throughout the night until 7am on the morning of Sept. 22. He specified four alleged methods: being punched repeatedly in the stomach by an officer acting as his English interpreter, being threatened with death, being threatened with forcible return to Chinese authorities and use of a military dog to menace him at close proximity.
Thai officials have flatly denied any suggestion Karadag or other suspects were subjected to abuse, saying such tactics have long been set aside.
Karadag in the letter admitted to entering Thailand illegally, possessing fake travel documents and repeated claims made after his arrest that he did so to transit to Malaysia for employment.
Interrogators presented security camera images of three suspected perpetrators from the night of the attack, the letter alleges.
“Due to exhaustion and fear, I then told the officers that I’m the man in the yellow shirt who set the bomb at the Erawan Shrine, and the man who wore grey at Lumpini Park, and the man in the blue shirt who set the bomb at the pier in accordance with the pictures shown were all me,” he said.
Soon thereafter he alleges that 10 armed military men entered the room with a new interpreter. Among them was then-police chief Gen. Somyot Pumpanmuang, his successor Gen. Chakhtip Chaijinda, metropolitan police chief Maj. Gen. Sriwarah Rangsipramnakul and other senior military officers. The letter alleges all were present when he was threatened with death should he not sign the confession.
In the following days, the investigators who had been sending mixed signals over Karadag’s role played down the confession before announcing Karadag was indeed the shrine bomber.
"Yesterday I didn't have clear information yet, but based on interrogation information obtained at around 9pm last night, I can now confirm that Adem Karadag or Bilal Mohammed [sic] is the yellow-shirted man,” Sriwarah said Sept. 25.
The next day Karadag was led around Bangkok for an official “re-enactment” of his alleged crimes.
Junta spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree said in a Reuters report published Monday that he doubted Karadag and Mieraili were tortured.
"I am fairly certain nothing happened to the suspects while they were in military custody," he was quoted saying.
Karadag and Mieraili, both Uighur members of a Muslim-minority group in China, were held at a controversial military prison. They face trial on charges including premeditated murder and possession of explosives, but they were not indicted for terrorism. No motive has been officially attached to the attack, but the consensus of security experts is that it was retaliation for Bangkok’s forcible repatriation of more than 100 Uighurs refugees to China.
Additional reporting Pravit Rojanaphruk