A MEDIA outlet and a human rights defender have been sued by the army for defaming the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) Region 4 and Fourth Army Area for alleging torture inside a military base.
Isoc Region 4 and the Fourth Army Area – which is responsible for the military operation to suppress the ongoing insurgency in the southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and parts of Songkhla – separately issued defamation lawsuits against the Manager Online editorial team and Patani Human Rights Organisation Network (HAP) founder Ismaael Teh on February 9 and February 14 respectively.
Because the targets of defamation suits were media and human rights activists, the Cross Culture Foundation (CRCF) has raised concerns that these cases are examples of strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP), with the intention of intimidating reporters and activists and making them too afraid to disclose the truth.
According to CRCF, the Manager Online editorial team was sued because of its coverage titled “Former suspect discloses near-death experience while being tortured during custody inside military camp”, published on its website on February 5. Ismaael was sued because he recounted an experience of being tortured by soldiers at one of the military bases in the Deep South via ThaiPBS on the same day.
The CRCF said in its statements that both cases were acts of deprivation of citizens’ freedom of expression, as both defendants had the right to honestly express their opinions on issues of public interest.
“The officers and the authorities, whose mandates are for protecting and upholding the human rights of everyone without discrimination and can be held accountable, have reported a case against the media, human rights activists or other people who monitor their practice,” the statement said.
“Legal action aims to bring to an end such investigation or to stop the dissemination of information and facts concerning the abuse of power by the authorities, where the public prosecutor may decide against indicting the case or the court may not agree to review the case, could be considered as SLAPP and an exercise of power not in good faith.”
‘Right to criticise’
The CRCF urged the Fourth Army Area Commander and Isoc Region 4 director-general, Lt-General Piyawat Nakwanit, to reconsider and withdraw the case against Ismael and Manager Online on the grounds that all people and the media had the right to inspect and criticise the operations of the authorities.
It was also noted that the Supreme Administrative Court had already judged on October 2016 that there was valid evidence to prove that Ismael was injured during military custody and the court had ordered the army to pay compensation of Bt100,000 and Bt5,000 in medical costs to Ismael. However, no officers were punished for injuring him.
Meanwhile, deputy spokesperson for Isoc Region 4, Colonel Thanawee Suwannarat stated that the article on Manager Online, which reported the alleged torture of suspects in the interrogation centre, and the actions of the human rights group, were violations of freedom of expression and the right to inspect and criticise the operation of the authorities, because they may cause misunderstanding among the public.
“Isoc Region 4 would like to highlight that the litigation against Manager Online is for the protection of the Army’s reputation, as the 43rd Ranger Force Regiment was defamed for alleged torture and we would like to emphasise that this lawsuit is not SLAPP,” Thanawee said.
“The Army has strict interrogation measures for suspects in cases related to national stability, as the entire interrogation procedures are recorded with CCTV and we have strict rules not to torture the suspects. The media should carefully check the information that they receive before publishing the news, as they are obligated to report trustworthy stories without defaming others.”