Update: The army said the officer implicated by the two recruits has been detained following an investigation.
CHONBURI — Police on Tuesday said they are investigating a claim by two army recruits that they were assaulted by their commanding officer after they were caught with marijuana at their base.
Chonburi City police commander Nithat Waewpradab said investigators are questioning the recruits, who were stationed at Chonburi’s Camp Nawamin, for possible legal actions against the perpetrators.
“They went to hospital for a checkup,” Col. Nithat said by phone. “Charges will be filed once all the evidence is gathered.”
Pvt. Watchara Sirirak, 22, and Pvt. Kajorn Prachong, 24, said they and another three draftees were subject to a series of tortures by a drill instructor at the base on Jan. 22 after he found the weed in their possession.
The five soldiers were struck by a piece of wood multiple times and waterboarded with a garden hose for refusing to reveal where they got the weed from, Pvt. Watchara and Pvt. Kajorn said.
The pair said they eventually fled the base and filed a petition with the government’s complaint center in the neighboring Rayong province on Monday. The three other soldiers decided to stay behind because they feared retaliation if they spoke out, according to Watchara and Kajorn.
“I feel sorry for my son,” Watchara’s mother Punyisa Sirirak said. “If my son is wrong, then he should be punished according to the regulations, not being beaten as if they are animals. I only saw these kinds of things in the news, but I never thought that this would happen to my own son.”
Kajorn’s mother said her son has eight months left in the service, but she does not believe that her son could survive any longer if he is still stationed at the same base.
“I want to be assured that my son will survive if he returns to the base,” Chattra Prachong said.
The First Region Army later said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon that an investigation was launched into the complaint. Preliminary inquiry revealed that there was sufficient evidence pointing to excessive punishments given by the drill sergeant, the statement said.
The unnamed officer has been detained while a full inquiry is ongoing, according to the statement, though no timeframe was given.
A number of junior ranking soldiers have died during their military service at the hands of their commanders. Victim’s families who seek the truth have been met with silence from the authorities or even prosecution.
In 2018, a 22-year-old private fell into a coma and died after he was reportedly beaten by three officers.
Two similar deaths were reported in the year of 2017 alone. Eight soldiers were accused of assaulting and killing a 22-year-old recruit, and an army cadet died in suspicious circumstances after he was subject to physical punishment by his commanding officers.
In early 2020, then-army chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong pledged to treat low ranking servicemen better and promote transparency within the ranks. The reform was promised after a disgruntled soldier went on a shooting rampage in Korat that killed 30 people.