Queries prosecutors' claim of lacking evidence but says court could be lenient
For a decade since the Tak Bai incident, noted human rights activist Angkhana Neelapaijit has been repeating calls for action on the death of 78 protesters at the hands of security officials while being taken away from the scene of a fatal protest in military trucks.
On the 10th anniversary of the incident, the chairwoman of the Justice of Peace Foundation has again questioned public prosecutors’ claims that they dropped the indictment of security officials because of a lack of evidence.
“We have people who survived in the military trucks who can explain how the protesters died after being piled up on each other in the vehicles,” she said.
The deaths were preventable if the protesters, who were bound and made to lie face down, were allowed to sit up to prevent them from suffocating or from being crushed under the weight of others. She said the media and witnesses at the incident knew which officials had given the orders for the transport – controlling the crowd, driving the trucks and guarding protesters in the trucks.
Although the victims and survivors could have filed cases on their own, they later retracted lawsuits after they were paid compensation. They had also faced the difficulty of producing witnesses and gathering evidence, she said.
This had happened even after many of them had requested for help from the National Human Rights Commission to initiate lawsuits against the officials.
“What the public prosecutor has said about the lack of evidence is untrue; there are a large number of survivors and eyewitnesses ready to testify, including many civil servants and a member of the junta-installed National Reform Council,” Angkhana said.
Reopening the cases, either through public prosecutors or with the victims’ relatives acting as co-plaintiffs, would lead to court trials, where the truth would be revealed about how the protesters had died and who were responsible for their deaths. However, suspended jail terms or some leniency could be granted to any defendants who were convicted, Angkhana said.
She said Thailand’s image had taken a beating due to the lack of thorough inquiry into the Tak Bai incident. She cited Thailand’s failure to be elected to a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2015-17 as an example of this.
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and international human rights bodies still speak out on the Tak Bai case, which they deemed an unlawful act by Thai security authorities that caused in deaths while in detention.
A total of Bt700 million has been paid to the families of the victims and the survivors since 2007 while charges against 58 core leaders arrested for illegally staging the rally were dropped. The 1,280 arrested protesters were not charged, but 51 people were wounded and one became disabled.
A ruling by Songkhla Court on May 29, 2009 said that the deaths were caused by suffocation during detention by authorities, but did not name anyone as culpable. The relatives later filed a request with the Criminal Court, asking that suffocation be revoked as the cause of death.
Court battles over this plea went to the Supreme Court, which ruled on August 1, 2013 that the Criminal Court was not authorised to validate the revocation. The verdict meant that the relatives would need to start from square one beginning with the Songkhla court, after wasting many years on this issue.
Angkhana called on the government not to deem the Tak Bai incident as a case against certain individuals, but as an issue of justice for the victims and Thai society as a whole. “Giving importance to the Tak Bai incident could help ease the bitter feelings of the people over this injustice to them.”