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ATTORNEY URGENT ALERT

 

 

THAILAND

February     2008

 

Angkhana Neelaphaijit,

 

the wife of abducted human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit

no longer receive protection.

Her life is at risk.

 

Source :The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

 

 

Angkhana Neelaphaijit, the wife of abducted human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit , is one among 29 people whose cases are being handled by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) under Thailand's Ministry of Justice will no longer receive protection from the department directly. Instead police will be responsible for them   

  Angkhana Neelaphaijit has said that she will refuse the police. Others who have joined with her in saying that they will not accept the police are the three victims of police torture from the south of Thailand, and the relative of a victim of police killing in the north and a witness in the same case.

Despite calls from human rights defenders and organisations across Asia and around the world, still the justice ministry in Thailand has not reversed its decision to transfer responsibility for protection of witnesses in human rights cases under its control back to the police. If it does not reverse this decision before February 29, the lives of victims of torture, and relatives of people killed and disappeared by state officers will be at risk.

Other groups that have expressed concern about the decision and have called for it to be reversed include the May 18 Memorial Foundation (Korea), which gave Angkhana its 2006 human rights award .

 

In a related development, the AHRC is also extremely concerned and is closely watching the sudden replacement of the head of the DSI just hours after Angkhana visited the sacked head. The new director is a police officer, again securing the full control of the police over what is supposed to be a non-police agency. The new head also was the former commander of the police who were accused of abducting Angkhana's husband in 2004, and was a subordinate of the earlier DSI chief accused of perverting justice and thwarting the investigation into the case. That former DSI chief is now a deputy commissioner general of the entire police force in Thailand and his brother is the justice minister. He is also reportedly acting on an "advisory panel" for his brother.

 

A witness protection programme was set up by the Ministry of Justice in accordance with the Witness Protection Act BE 2546 (2003). This act, introduced through the now abrogated Constitution of BE 2540 (1997), was a welcome albeit limited initiative because it recognised the importance of offering protection and also for the first time acknowledged that it should not be the responsibility of police to protect victims and witnesses of serious crimes, paving the way for an Office of Witness Protection under the ministry. However, it is apparent that there are now steps underway to undo the whole work of developing some notions of effective witness protection in Thailand, which are part of a bigger project to reverse all of the moves towards greater protection of human rights begun in the 1990s.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre, sister organisation of the AHRC, published a detailed report on witness protection in Thailand during 2006: Protecting witnesses or perverting justice in Thailand, (article 2, vol. 5, no. 3, June 2006.) (and in Thai).

 

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

 

Somchai Neelaphaijit, 53 years old,  a prominent human rights lawyer is the chairman of Thailand’s Muslim Lawyers Association and vice-chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of Thailand. Somchai was also the lawyer for nine Thai Muslims from the south accused of being involved in the recent violence in Thailand’s four southern provinces, which began with an attack on an army camp in Narathiwat on January 4, 2004, and has claimed the lives of at least 50 soldiers, police, Buddhist monks and civilians. 

 

Mr. Somchai disappeared on 12 March in Bangkok, after he had offered legal aid to the  Muslim men accused of being involved in a weapons theft in Narathiwat in  the 4th of  January 2004. Mr Somchai had learned the suspects were tortured by police during their interrogation and he threatened to expose it. On March 4 Somchai Neelaphaijit sought a court order for the five men to receive a physical examination for effects of torture.

 

Somchai Neelahphaijit's had also as clients the four Muslims accused of plotting a series of truck bombings against foreign embassies last year. He was also the head of the legal team defending the alleged planners of the failed Bangkok bombing campaign. He was also leading a campaign to petition the government to abolish martial law in the Muslim south. Mr Somchai was trying to collect 50,000 signatures to demand the lifting of martial law which has been imposed in January  by the government in the three mainly Muslim-dominated  provinces in the south of the country.

 

Somchai had reported to colleagues and family members that he had received threats since he has taken on the cases of two alleged Thai members of the Jemaah Islamiyah, a violent Islamistic group accussed of plotting bomb attacks in Thailand . The Law Society of Thailand fears  Mr Somchai was abducted by officials opposed to his activities. The police hierarchy is trying to confess that Somchai may have been abducted for making these charges, while at the same time denying that the torture took place.

 

Because Somchai had been receiving threats, he had systematically informed colleagues and his family about his movements. Police said that on the night of his disappearance Somchai’s wife thought he had gone to see a friend, but Thai newspapers reported that he planned to meet a witness in a case involving unrest in the troubled south. He told a co-worker that he was going to see a witness but he did not arrive. He had scheduled to fly to Narathiwat but he did not cancel his flight. Somchai’s car was found, apparently abandoned, along the road near the Northeastern Bus Terminal in Bangkok.

 

Following international and domestic outcry, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of the Thai Government insisted that a prompt investigation on the apparent disappearance will be done.  Although five policemen were indicted in connection with his disappearance, neither Somchai’s whereabouts nor his body has been found. On 9 June 2004 the criminal court released four suspects, even if there are  raising questions about their influence in the investigation and prosecution.

 

Further progress in the case has been disappointing.  The trial, which will not begin until August 2005, and will be based on charges of gang-robbery of  Somchai's car, watch, pen, and cell phone, and "coercion by threatening bodily harm or death." Thai authorities claim that the absence of a body is an obstacle to more serious charges of kidnapping or murder.  A Senate committee announced in May that it had little hope of solving the lawyer's disappearance due to the poor cooperation from the police.

.

See also the Somchai Neelapaijhit homepage: http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/somchai 

 

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write to the Minister of Justice to urge that this decision on witness protection be reversed without delay or he will be putting the lives of many persons at grave risk. 

To support this appeal   : http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/support.php?ua=UAC-040-2008

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ______________,

 

THAILAND: Please continue to ensure that witnesses get DSI protection

I am writing to you because I have heard that the victims and relatives of victims of torture, extrajudicial killing and forced disappearance in Thailand whose cases are with the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), Ministry of Justice, will from 29 February 2008 no longer get witness protection from the department. Instead the police will have responsibility for this.

Not surprisingly, those persons have said that they will not accept the police. Among them, I am aware that Angkhana Neelaphaijit, wife of abducted human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit, has already petitioned the department to reverse this move, as have three victims of severe torture allegedly committed by the police.

I join calls from around the world for the Minister of Justice to reverse this decision to transfer protection powers in these cases to police officers, and instead keep responsibility for protecting persons in human rights cases under the DSI with the department. I urge that the decision be reviewed immediately. If not, in the event that anything happens to any one of these persons after February 29, then the Minister will be held responsible and condemned by the international community for this decision.

I also take this opportunity to express my gravest concerns about the appointment of Pol. Col. Thavee Sodsong as the new Director General of the Department of Special Investigation. I am aware that Pol. Col. Thavee was in fact the commander of the accused officers in the case of Somchai Neelaphaijit when stationed at the Crime Suppression Division and for this reason among others I do not believe that he is an appropriate person to head this important agency. I again urge that this decision be reviewed and a suitable person be appointed in his stead.

Yours sincerely,
 

PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Sompong Amornvivat
Minister of Justice
Office of the Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Justice Building
22nd Floor, Software Park Building,
Chaeng Wattana Road
Chaeng Wattana Road, Pakkred
Nonthaburi, 11120
THAILAND
Fax: +662 502 6699/ 6734 / 6884
Tel: +662 502 6776/ 8223

2. Mr. Samak Sundaravej
Prime Minister
c/o Government House
Pitsanulok Road, Dusit District
Bangkok 10300
THAILAND
Fax: +662 282 8631/ 280 1589/ 629 8213
Tel: +662 280 1404/ 3000
E-mail: spokesman@thaigov.go.th 

3. Mr. Noppadon Pattama
Minister of Foreign Affair
Office of the Minister of Foreign Affair
443 Sri Ayudhya Road
Bangkok 10400
THAILAND
Fax: +662 6435318
Tel: +662 643 5333

4. Pol. Col. Thavee Sodsong
Director General
Department of Special Investigation
499 Suk Prapruit Building
Prachachuen Road, BangSue
Bangkok 10800
Fax: +662 913 7777
Tel: +662 831 9888

5. Prof. Saneh Chamarik
Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
422 Phya Thai Road
Pathum Wan District
Bangkok 10300
THAILAND
Fax: +662 219 2940
Tel: +662 219 2980
E-mail: commission@nhrc.or.th

 

TAKE ACTION NOW !

 

 

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