BANGKOK — Three activists being sued for defamation by the national counter-insurgency agency over reports on the use of torture in the Deep South said they will not reveal the names of their sources to the authorities.
After receiving a police summons Monday accusing them of defaming the Internal Security Operations Command, or ISOC, the authors of a February report said they will not give up the names of those who claimed they were tortured but will instead pass them along to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“We didn’t defame anyone. We had no intention to cause damage to anyone, but we want them to scrutinize [the torture claims] in a way that would lead to redress,” said Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, director of the foundation which published the report.
The summons went to Pornpen along with human rights lawyer Somchai Hom-laor and Anchana Heemmina, president of Songkhla-based human rights organization Duay Jai Group, who co-edited the report. They were ordered to present themselves to hear the charges June 26 at Pattani Police Station.
The three were accused of defaming ISOC, a force outside the military structure which answers only to the prime minister, in their 120-page report “Torture and Ill Treatment in the Deep South 2014-2015,” released Feb. 10. They were also accused of violating the Computer Crime Act by spreading the content online.
If charged and found guilty, the three could face imprisonment up to seven years – two for the defamation count and five for violating the Computer Crime Act.
ISOC wants to know all 54 names used in the report, but Pornpen insisted only six granted consent to be identified.
In one of the cases, cited in the report as DJ.07.2015, a 28-year-old man claimed that on Jan. 11, 2015, he was subjected to electric shock while blindfolded and had his testicles squeezed. He then claimed to have been left lying naked in a cold room while a female military officer brushed her breasts against his face.
The report recounted claims that physical assault against the man continued for several days until he suffered bruises and blood in his urine and stool. ISOC, which is in charge of operations against ethnic-Malay separatists in the Deep South, has rejected the allegations as fiction.
Pornpen said it’s not right to use the Computer Crime Act against her and the others because it wasn’t meant for defamation cases.
“I don’t think it’s just,” said Pornpen, who together with her colleagues will request a postponement of the meeting with Pattani police.
Sam Zarifi of the International Commission of Jurists said he was surprised by the criminal complaints.
“We had just recently gone through the Phuketwan case in which the Navy’s similar claim was dismissed at great cost to Thailand’s national and international reputation, and also because the Thai government has just recently announced with great fanfare it was moving toward implementing the Convention Against Torture,” said Zarifi, who is based in Bangkok.
He said the suit was inconsistent with forward progress in ending abuses.
“At the end of the day, Thailand has made a commitment to end torture and ill-treatment, and a big part of that is ensuring proper investigation and accountability for allegations of such behavior.”
Zarifi said his commission called June 9 for the withdrawal of the criminal complaints against the three.
Asked if he believed the torture claims were undermined by not disclosing the sources’ identities, Sarifi responded negatively.
“It seems that police ill-treatment of detainees is a general phenomenon throughout Thailand, not just in the Deep South,” he said, citing the Koh Tao murder and Erawan bombing cases in which torture allegations were made.
“But our information suggests that by 2013, complaints of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in the Deep South had decreased notably from the high levels of 2005-2009. This trend seems to have reversed again, with the complaints increasing,” he said, adding that the allegations demand a full and speedy investigation by military authorities.