Isoc’s libel lawsuit against a victim of torture will only further cloud the atmosphere of distrust
The Internal Security Operation Command Region Four has filed a criminal and civil defamation case against local media person and Patani Malay human rights activist Ismail Teh, a well-known victim of torture.
It is not clear why Lt-General Piywawat Nakwanich wants to drag this case out in the open again given the fact that Ismail had gone through the due legal process from 2008-16, and a civil court had already ruled him a victim of torture after eight years of court hearings.
The court had also ordered the Army to compensate Ismail for the pain and agony he had gone through.
Ismail said he was kicked, electrocuted and beaten with a stick until he passed out by authorities who were trying to extract a confession from him. They accused him of being part of an insurgency operating among Thailand’s Muslim-majority in the southernmost provinces.
But this past week, Isoc filed complaints with the police in Pattani, accusing Ismail of defamation for speaking to the media about his torture.
The activist, who is the founder of the Patani Human Rights Organisation Network in southern Thailand, is not exactly looking forward to another lengthy legal process.
Part of the reason is the political atmosphere of Isoc’s charges against Ismail and the local media.
Because it has already been established that Ismail was a victim, dragging him back to court is nothing more than abusing the criminal defamation law to send a stern warning to others and the media that Isoc and the country’s Armed Forces are above criticism.
Ismail’s case is rare simply because he was willing to take his case to the court. One can only imagine how many other people have gone through the beatings but avoided making their experiences public for fear of retaliation.
“Convictions for criminal defamation are far too common in Thailand. It’s the legal weapon of choice of powerful people, to add insult to injury to those daring to allege that the Army had committed wrongdoing,” said Human Rights Watch’s Brad Adams. “For every brave person like Ismae Teh, there are probably 10 more who are abused and don’t dare say anything or report it because they fear retaliation.”
Piayawat risks not only humiliating himself but undermining Thailand’s legal process, a source of contention between the local residents and the state. Indeed, access to justice is an important issue. And to exploit the system for political gain and to massage one’s ego will only result in undermining the justice system.
Piyawat only has to look at recent history and he will understand why trust in Thailand’s justice system is an issue. Indeed, no Thai government has ever prosecuted security personnel for abuses against local residents in the far South.
Be it the gunmen who fired into a crowd of unarmed demonstrators in front of the Tak Bai district police station, or the soldiers who supervised the transport of these demonstrators, 78 of whom died from suffocation.
And let’s not forget the beating of Imam Yapa Kaseng. Whatever happened to the Army officer behind the beating?
There are lots of reasons for the mistrust. What Piyawat is doing, far from helping the situation, will only make it worse.