Anti-graft agency files report against 10 soldiers accused of gruesome torture

An anti-graft agency has submitted a report recommending criminal charges against 10 soldiers in Thailand’s restive Deep South for their role four years ago in torturing an army recruit to death.

According to the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), a human rights advocacy group, a fact-finding committee of the Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) on 8 July 2015 submitted a report about the torture and murder of Wichean Pueksom to the relevant state agencies.

The report will later be sent to prosecutors to press criminal charges against 10 military officers who engaged in the torture of the Wichean, leading to his death. The 10 are accused of offenses under Article 83, prosecution of accomplices in crime, and Article 157, malfeasance in office, of the Criminal Code, and Article 30 of the 1930 Military Penal Code.

Wichean died on 5 June 2011 in Narathiwat Province at the age of 26 while he was serving in the military. The forensic report of Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra Hospital concluded that he suffered from acute kidney failure resulting from severe physical injuries.

According to an investigation by the 4th Army Region, Wichean was severely tortured by other soldiers and his superiors after he was accused of running away from military training.

The Army report pointed out that a number of soldiers at the request of Sub Lt Om Malaihom on 1 June 2011 stripped Wichean down to his underwear and dragged him over a rough cement surface before repeatedly kicking him with military boots and beating him for several hours.

The report added that the soldiers applied salt to the injuries of the torture victim to increase the pain and wrapped his entire body with a white sheet, tying his hands together as for a corpse and reading the funeral rites, before engaging in another round of beating.

The injured officer was later sent to Cho-airong District Hospital in Narathiwat Province on 2 June 2011 and was later transferred to Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra Hospital in Mueang District because his condition was too severe for a small district hospital to treat.

In May 2012, Wichean’s family filed civil charges against the Ministry of Defence, the Royal Thai Army, and the Prime Minister's Office for malfeasance, demanding about 18 million baht (about 500,000 USD) compensation from the authorities. Through constant negotiations and reconciliation, the PM’s Office agreed to give the victim’s family 7 million baht compensation which was finalised by the civil court in February 2014.

Criminal charges against the officers involved in the torture and murder of Wichean, however, have been stalled for four years by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

The NACC later transferred the case to PACC, which formed a fact-finding committee to investigate the case and issued a report in July 2015.

Despite concrete evidence against Sub Lt Om Malaihom and nine other accomplices, the accused maintain that they did not commit the crimes as alleged and that they were falsely accused by certain individuals.

Up to now, none of the accused soldiers have been officially prosecuted for criminal offences. The soldiers were temporarily suspended from their military posts, but were later permitted to resume their posts as usual. CrCF reported that some were even promoted to higher ranks.

In the past decade, many have been tortured in the hands of the military in the restive Deep South. However, state agencies tend to compensate the victims and their families and it is extremely rare for military personnel to be prosecuted with criminal offences.

On 21 September 2015, the NACC announced that it had found Sub-Lt. Sirikhet Wanitbamrung responsible for beating to death 56-year-old Imam Yapa Kaseng while he was detained at the 39th Taskforce Unit in Narathiwat Province in March 2008. The commission recommended Sirikhet face both disciplinary and criminal action.