The military junta has spent the past day or so trying to distance itself from the second acknowledged death in military custody. It has involved The Dictator and the Minister for “Justice.”
In an AFP report, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is reported to have “said the military was not to blame for the death of a famous fortune teller charged with royal defamation after he died in custody in a Bangkok army barracks.”
Prayuth declared that the detention site, inside the 11th Army Division, was “not a military prison” but is “run by the justice ministry and supervised by police.” In other words, the area inside the military base, in military buildings, surrounded by military personnel and kit is not military.
Prayuth then became even more bizarre than usual, claiming to reporters: “When you use the word military prison it’s shocking. The military is kind not cruel…”. Tell that to the tens of thousands of victims and families who have been subject to the military’s enforced disappearances, land losses, red drum incinerations, torture, regular massacres and various kinds of corruption.
In a Prachatai report, Gen Paiboon Kumchaya, the Minister of “Justice,” also denies any responsibility. Like his boss, he argued that “the remand facility in the 11th Army Division is not a ‘military prison’, but a normal remand facility runs by the Department of Corrections.” We do not think that “normal” is in any way the right description of this military facility housing a makeshift prison (or is it Detention Site Green?).
His excuse is that deaths in custody are somehow normal. Paiboon said that the deaths of Suriyan Sujaritpalawong and Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha were just two deaths in amongst many deaths and suicides amongst the prison population of 300,000-400,000 people.
Suriyan and Prakrom, however, were held in this special prison, with just a handful of prisoners.
Paiboon also said that health checks on Jirawong Wattanathewasilp, the only surviving prisoner arrested in this group of three, “will be carried out.”
Several human rights organizations are now calling for “accountability and greater transparency on the detention of lese majeste suspects.” They should be doing more than this, but the situation in Thailand under the military boot is anything but normal.
Update: The Human Rights Lawyers Association and Union for Civil Liberty have called for the use of “Section 150 of the Criminal Procedure Code by launching an inquiry into Suriyan’s custodial death…”. They state that the authorities are required to “inform at least a person in Suriyan’s family prior to the autopsy being performed.” In addition, they point out that “Suriyan’s death was regarded as death while in the custody of authorities which meant concerned officials were required to comply with the Criminal Procedure Code law governing the decease’s autopsy…. The law required a police investigator, a public prosecutor, a physician and an administrative official to be present at the autopsy…”. Law does not not appear to apply in lese majeste cases or to the military dictatorship (unless they are using the law against others).