Court verdict deepens the question: Where is Somchai?
13 January 2006 12:00 am
The crucial question “Where is Somchai?” remains unanswered even after yesterday’s conviction of a police Major by Thai courts for forcibly pushing the prominent human rights lawyer into a car. Four other defendants were acquitted citing lack of clear evidence. However, the court has ruled that a state officer had forcibly abducted Somchai.The crucial question “Where is Somchai?” remains unanswered even after yesterday’s conviction of a police Major by Thai courts for forcibly pushing the prominent human rights lawyer into a car. Four other defendants were acquitted citing lack of clear evidence. However, the court has ruled that a state officer had forcibly abducted Somchai.
FORUM-ASIA joins Ms Angkana Neelaphaijit, Somchai’s wife, the local and the international human rights community, in calling on the Thai government to immediately pursue independent investigations to establish where is Somchai and what actually happened to him. Those responsible must be held accountable for his disappearance.
The Court verdict came twenty-two months after Somchai Neelaphaijit, a prominent Thai human rights lawyer had disappeared, and seven months after the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances had taken up the case. The judgement also highlighted that the defendants had not been interested in the property of Somchai, the theft of which they had been charged. This makes clear that it was Somchai himself that the persons behind his disappearance had been after.
Somchai’s case shows that Thai government’s commitment to rule of law and justice falls far short of international standards. Considering concerns expressed by Thai people, the international community and the United Nations’ human rights bodies about Somchai’s disappearance, the Thai government must ensure that justice is not only done, but also that it is seen as being done.
The entire trial process, the light sentence of three years and the acquittal of four of the five defendants, showed the prosecution’s lack of seriousness and limitations of police investigations when fellow police officers are charged. That this was not addressed despite repeated requests by Somchai’s wife Angkana Neelaphaijit, local and international human rights organizations shows the Thai authorities’ unwillingness or inability to ensure justice.
The Department of Special Investigation has announced that it had started its own investigations into the case last July, but to date, no one knows what progress has been made. On December 1 2005, Ms. Neelaphaijit was promised monthly updates and regular press conferences, but nothing has been forthcoming.
Protection for Somchai’s family and witnesses should be given top priority. In the past, Somchai’s wife, a co-plaintiff, had also been threatened and intimidated. The judgement also mentioned that the key witnesses, who had shown confidence in all other aspects, had expressed fear about consequences of their testimonies. The smashing of the headlight of the car used by Ms. Neelaphaijit during yesterday’s court hearing within the court premises, is an obvious attempt to intimidate her, and serves as an ominous sign.
Somchai’s case is inseparably linked to the conflict in Southern Thailand. Somchai had been defending Southern Muslims tortured by the Thai authorities and this is believed to be the reason for his disappearance. People who had travelled all the way from the south to hear the verdict, expressed disappointment and frustration and held up posters calling for justice outside the courtroom. How the Thai government handles Somchai’s case will be an indicator of its political commitment to address Muslim concerns in a just and fair manner.
For further details, please contact Ruki Fernando (66-4-0991538 / [email protected]), Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) Program Coordinator.