Pattaya – 27 July [ PDN] : The recent arrest and conviction of seven members of the Border Patrol Police (BPP) Taskforce, led by Pol. Captain Nat Cholnithiwanit, is being hailed as a victory for true justice and has given the new Thai government an opportunity to demonstrate it can hold abusers to account.

The BBP team is accused of having abducted and framed hundreds, of people, setting up their victims, and using systematic torture, extortion and numerous other human rights offences .

According to Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, “The arrest of Police Captain Nat reveals shocking details of systematic police brutality, corruption and abuse of power in anti-drugs operations. This is not just a problem of a few rogue officers; there has been a chronic failure to ensure oversight and accountability for the police.”

The Asian Human Rights Commission has for a number of years researched and advocated on criminal justice issues in Thailand. It has repeatedly indicated that human rights abuse here is a consequence of systemic corruption and politicization; displaying lack of disciplinary controls; inadequate witness protection; the absence of independent and reliable bodies to receive complaints, investigate and prosecute officers for wrongdoing, and the incapacity and unwillingness of the courts and other state agencies to challenge police authority.

Evidence of the authorities’ intransigence was forthcoming in a recent statement by the National Police Commissioner-General, Police General Seriphisut Temiyavej, as regards the BPP team, threatening legal action against witnesses and other complainants who are seen to be filing false complaints against police officers.

In response, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch Brad Adams, said “Thailand’s national police commissioner-general should be encouraging victims to come forward, not threatening them with legal action. Seriphisut’s threats against victims of police abuse further fuel this vicious cycle of abuses and impunity”.

As regards the accused BPP team, namely Police Captain Nat Chonnithiwanit and seven other members of Company 426 of the Nakhon Si Thammarat 41st Border Patrol Police (BPP) Taskforce Unit, they were arrested in Bangkok on January 25, 2009, accused of serious offenses committed over the past three years. The charges included:

• criminal conspiracy,
• armed robbery,
• forced intrusion,
• threatening others with weapons,
• abducting and torturing people for ransom and so as to fabricate cases
• detaining others, and
• abducting minors under the age of 15.
• imprisoning victims with false testimony if they failed to pay the ransom.

Witnesses and alleged victims have come forward, and filed formal complaints with the Justice Ministry, alleging that they or their family members were abused by the BPP team, who have also been accused of using electric shock torture, attempted suffocation with plastic bags, and beating up victims. Many also claimed they were forced to pay bribes in order to be released or to have lesser charges filed against them.

The BPP team were arrested after a middle-aged businesswoman, Piangjit Pueng-on, a garment factory owner, whom they had kidnapped, brutally assaulted, and held with her children, reported her experiences and filed a complaint with Bang Phlad District Police in January, after being released. Police, thus alerted, commenced their investigation of the BPP team.

Pol. Capt Nat and his team had apparently rented a four-storey building, Aree Residence, which has eight VIP rooms, on Soi Aree off Phahon Yothin Road on January 17, 2009.

A team member who also worked for Mrs Piangjit then invited her to a party, where crystal methamphetamine,(Yah Ice) was used. While the party was in progress, members of the BPP suddenly turned up and appeared to arrest Mrs Piangjit, ostensibly to take her to the police station. Instead, the team took her to a condominium in Bang Phlad District and also took her 10- and 15-year-old sons hostage. The gang, initially, tried to extort Bt 10 million ransom from her,having learnt that she had just received Bt20 million child support from her divorced husband, 10 million having already been spent. Mrs Piangjit pleaded with her captors that she could only afford Bt 8.7 million becuase she needed 1 million for her sons. She duly withdrew the ransom money and was subsequently released, along with her two sons, after which she lodged her complaint against the team.

Shortly after, police surrounded the Aree Residence and ordered the BPP team to surrender. At Bang Phlad District Police Station, Pol Capt Nat subsequently denied all the charges, refusing to answer questions, maintaining he was pursuing a drug case in which he had previously impounded 1,700 methamphetamine pills in two separate operations in Chumphon.

Once the initial complaint and subsequent arrest of members of the team came to light, the floodgates opened, with over 60 other victims complaining to the Rights and Liberties Protection Department about the BPP team, whilst up to 180 inmates have also reportedly sought to have their files reopened. Two of the victims, a couple being held awaiting trial on drugs charges, also claimed to have been abducted and set up by the unit. According to them, they had seen around twenty people being held in a bungalow in Surat Thani, some of whom had been assaulted and tortured, others having been hooded. In addition, a few more were seen to have smashed teeth and bruised faces. Another victim has complained that she was arrested last February and electrocuted while pregnant to make a forced a confession, also on drugs charges. She maintained her innocence and was acquitted in October, although she was subsequently kept in prison, where she gave birth to her child.

Other victims who came forward, included Chaiwiwat Bunkua, a 33-year-old Phuket man who, lodged a complaint with the Crime Suppression Police, accusing the BPP team of physically assaulting and detaining him and his two friends in September 2006. He alleges the three were arrested and accused of trafficking methamphetamines, a claim he vehemently denied. Chaiwiwat maintained the trio were subsequently taken to a hotel where they were beaten and tortured until they agreed to make false confessions that they were dealing methamphetamine pills. Chaiwiwat stated that he’d filed a complaint against the BPP team gang at Phuket Police Station, but nothing further had been heard of the matter.

Yet other victims were Nukul Ruangjui, 44, and his wife Somsi Yos-in, 45, from Kanchanaburi, who filed a complaint against Deputy Superintendent Surajit Klai-udom, Pol Capt Nat's supervisor, accusing him of malfeasance, unlawful detention and robbery. Pol Lt-Col Surajit and unspecified police officers allegedly beat up Mr Nukul’s son and his son's friend on August 3, 2008, forcing them to make a false confession that they were dealing methamphetamine and had 1,182 pills for sale.

Jamnong Rungruangma, 50, from Songkhla, is another who accused Pol Capt Nat of charging her on drugs offences, despite having extorted money from her to let her off. Somchai Baengbun, 25, made a similar complaint against the BPP team.

Pol Capt Nat apparently received large amounts of reward money for the arrests he made and had been hailed by the Royal Thai Police as an exemplar of drug-suppression operations. In his defence, Pol. Capt. Nat is reported as saying that he was only doing his job and that senior officers knew of his unit's activities.

Human Rights Watch said that the arrests of Captain Nat and his subordinates should act as a catalyst for the new government to establish independent and credible institutions able to receive complaints, conduct investigations, and prosecute police officers for wrongdoing.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), meanwhile, urges that a special independent inquiry be set up to examine the extent to which senior officers were complicit. It urges that the victims and witnesses be protected under the Witness Protection Act of 2003 and be given compensation in accordance with the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act of 2001.

The AHRC also calls upon the new government of Thailand to legislate against torture in accordance with the country's obligations under the UN Convention against Torture, as well as to establish an independent civilian body to investigate complaints filed against the police and ensure effective remedies to allow detainees to challenge the legality of their detention.

Finally, the AHRC calls upon concerned human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and similarly concerned persons in Thailand and elsewhere to monitor these and similar cases, to counter gross human rights abuse in Thailand's criminal justice institutions, such as the above case, and highlight all that is rotten in the state of Thailand, in the earnest hope that lasting remedies may be implemented.

Bangkok-based silver jewellery seller Juthaporn Noorod, 34, told reporters
how a team of border police officers, led by Captain Nat Chonnitiwanit, framed her for drug trafficking.


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