Thai protesters allege torture at hands of police

The atmosphere was full of sorrow. Dozens of people had shown up at a quiet vigil for Warit Somnoi, a 15-year-old demonstrator who was mysteriously shot in the head in September 2021. The protesters were there to recognize that the modern democracy movement had experienced its first tragic fatality. Tears were flowing as people gently laid down flowers in memory of a child’s avoidable death. 

But suddenly the silence was broken by the bursting sounds of a police crackdown. The vigil was still in process when a wave of officers moved in to disperse the mourning protesters with force. A small struggle ensued, but by the time it ended at least six people were detained and brought to Din Daeng police station. 

Once they were brought inside the station, some protesters were allegedly beaten, choked, and even burned with cigarettes. One protester who spoke to Thai Enquirer recalls a harrowing experience that went on for over 9 hours. 

“That’s when [inside the station] they started to torture me,” says  Attasith Nussa, 35. “They hit me many times. Slammed my head against hard objects inside the room. They continued to hit me on the right side of my face and body.”

Attasith added that the police threatened him that he may die in their custody. 

Police detain a pro-democracy protester during an anti-government demonstration at Sanam Luang next to the Grand Palace in Bangkok on March 20, 2021. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

The officers accused Attasith of lighting a shrine on fire in front of a police station in Din Daeng on October 29, 2021. But when he denied these accusations, the police didn’t believe him and instead attempted to force a confession. They then continued to abuse him, demanding information about his alleged crimes. 

‘They worked on me for at least an hour,” Atthisit said. “One of them told me that maybe you will die today.” 

Multiple officers also took turns choking the 35-year-old democracy protester repeatedly.  They then forced him to give up his phone password so that they could search for evidence that could incriminate him. 

Attasit says they held him in the interrogation room until 3:00.a.m the next morning. After that he was moved to a holding cell with a group of other weary democracy protesters. 

“Finally after 3:00a.m they let me see a lawyer in a different room,” Attasith said. “ Four lawyers were present because there were so many suspects. There were at least five other people in the second room with me. I don’t know if they too were also hurt like me. But later I heard that only one had the same experience.” 

It’s true, Attasith isn’t the only protester detained that day who is now alleging that he was abused while in police custody. 

In an interview with Pratchatai, Weeraphap Wongsaman, said, “The officers punched and kicked me then brought me inside the police station.”

“I was handcuffed behind my back. They put me on a chair in an interrogation room and took off my pants. They burned the areas around my genitals and kicked my privates. One of the officers told me, ‘You are lucky that I did not shoot you and throw your body into a river,” he said according to Prachatai. 

Pro-democracy protesters confront riot police whilst marching to Government House to call for the resignation of Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha in Bangkok on July 18, 2021. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

The torture allegations are a concerning turn of events rights groups say. Although there have been considerable claims that police have used excessive force cracking down at protests, these are the first torture allegations that have come from protesters within the new movement. 

Sunai Phasuk, a Thailand researcher with Human Rights Watch, told Thai Enquirer that the police have so far taken no responsibility. In fact, the authorities have since called their reports “fake news” and are trying to delegitimize the two men who have come out. 

“Disappointingly, the Thai government responded to the report about these torture cases with denial and cover-up — branding it “fake news” and warning the public not to share it on social media,” Sunai  said. “This shows not only a glaring failure of the government to seriously address outstanding problems about torture and ill-treatment in police custody, but also a lack of commitment to live up to its own pledges to fulfill obligations to promptly investigate and prosecute these heinous acts.” 

Although this is the first major torture incident related to the new democracy movement, it’s far from the first time Thai security forces or law enforcement have been accused of using torture to coerce information out of a detained suspect. 

Back in August, the killing of a drug suspect was caught on a security camera in the Thai central province of Nakhon Sawan on August 5. The footage was leaked online sending shockwaves through Thailand, stirring a fierce public outcry and a heated debate over long-standing allegations of police brutality in Thailand. The police officer in charge, Thitisan “Jo Ferrari” Uttanapol and his accomplices are now facing criminal charges. 

Thai Enquier made multiple attempts to contact Thai police for comment. All requests went unanswered. 

Atthisith filed a complaint with the House of Representatives’ Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. He hopes to receive some kind of compensation or at least an apology. 

“I’m not surprised,” says Atthisith. “This is what they do. There have been so many cases in the past. But in my case it’s quite surprising because it’s never happened like this to political suspects. This is the first time this has happened in a political case like mine.” 


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