EVEN AS state authorities maintained that reports of torture in the country had no credibility, foreign speakers from Amnesty International were yesterday barred from presenting the results of their study on the grounds that they did not have a work permit.
Amnesty International yesterday launched at a Bangkok hotel its report “Make Him Speak by Tomorrow: Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Thailand”, unveiling cases of torture at the hands of the military and police, covering cases from the deep South insurgency, the political struggle, and law enforcement in rural areas.
A press conference yesterday to release the report was stalled, as a team of officers from the Labour Ministry and police arrived at the venue. They informed the speakers that since they did not have a work permit, they would be arrested for violating the Alien Working Act if they went ahead with the conference.
One of the speakers, Yuval Ginbar, an Amnesty International specialist and the writer of the report, argued that he had obtained a Thai business visa, which was valid until December, and hence he should be allowed to present his report.
“I am holding a British passport with a valid business visa for a whole year and they [the authorities] know it. Human rights advocacy is my business and I don’t see why I can’t do my business here,” Ginbar said in an informal interview after the event.
The Employment Department last year had said seven types of work-related activities, which included attending and taking part in a business meeting or business negotiations, would no longer be classified as ‘work’ under the Alien Working Act and foreigners did not require a Thai work permit for these activities.
Meanwhile, Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree stated that the Army had nothing to do with the inspection and denied knowledge of the Amnesty International event yesterday.
The report, which has been made available online, documents 74 cases of torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of soldiers and the police, including beatings, suffocation using plastic bags, strangling by hand or rope, waterboarding, electric shocks to the genitals, and other forms of humiliation.
Soon after the coup, “Tul” – not his real name – was arrested by the Army and held at an undisclosed location for seven days, during which time he was repeatedly tortured using severe beatings and other methods.
“They put a plastic bag on my head until I fainted, and then poured a bucket of cold water on me,” he told Amnesty International. “They applied electric shock to my penis and chest. I was restrained, my legs tied, and my face covered with tape and a plastic bag.”
“This report also gives detailed recommendations to the government to stop the torture being practised by officials and we are more than happy to work with the government to achieve this goal,” Ginbar said.
According to the report, there were many gaps in Thai laws that allowed the use of torture during official detention and interrogation. For instance, the interim charter does not cover the issue of torture; the Thai Criminal Code does not define torture; and there are several special laws that give officers the power to detain suspects for a long time before presenting them in court.
Winthai said the report lacked credibility and was heavily biased because the organisation did not get the information from the authorities.
“The sources for their report are unreliable. There is no such practice anymore, because confessions from torture will not be accepted in a court. So, why would officers torture suspects to make them confess?” he asked.
“If there is anything in the report that damages the reputation of anyone or any agency, they may be sued for defamation,” he warned.