Murder and the failure of the justice system

11 08 2018

In our first post on the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae on 17 March 2017, we made several points. We began by saying no one has any reason to believe the police or the military on this tragic event.

The junta immediately defended the soldiers who shot the young man:

National Council for Peace and Order [junta] spokesman Winthai Suvaree yesterday said authorities performed their duties according to a code of conduct and none of them would have fired their weapons had it not been necessary.

The courts have decided that the military shot Chaiyaphoom, but no more than this.

The police initially insisted that Lahu activist Chaiyaphoom was linked to drug trafficking. They also stated, immediately, that the killing was in self-defense. They claimed Chaiyapoom was shot after he tried to attack the soldier with a hand grenade while fleeing. Another version of the police story also had him threatening the soldier with a knife. It later emerged that the military used exactly  the same “defense” in a case a month earlier and at the very same military checkpoint.

The story became more bizarre when it emerged that in neither case did the “grenade” explode! It was being alleged that the two used the grenade like throwing a rock.

You’d think the story could be better than this if you were concocting it. But these officials and the military are so sure of their impunity that they can come up with ludicrous, improbable and dumb excuses and just get away with it.

Immediately after Chaiyaphoom’s one-shot death, the police insisted there was no foul play.” And they also claimed that a large number of meth pills were “found” in the car that Chaiyaphoom allegedly ran from. Shut the door, close the books and go home. There’s nothing to see or investigate.

Locals were aghast and knew there was a cover up. When the military suddenly showed up in villages and strong-armed potential witnesses and a few who spoke out, it was clear there was a cover-up.

More covering up followed. The Army boss Gen Chalermchai Sitthisart said his men “had to protect themselves as the suspect had intended to throw a grenade…”. Deputy Dictator Prawit Wongsuwan said much the same.

Local witnesses of the shooting told a different story. They were soon silent, no doubt intimidated.

By the end of March, the military and police had refused to release CCTV footage of the killing. Third Region Army chief Lt Gen Vijak Siribansop said the military had sent CCTV evidence to the police.

Gen Chalermchai also “stated that he had already watched the CCTV recording of the scene. He said the controversial evidence does not ‘answer all questions.’ Releasing the footage might lead to confusion in the investigation process and arguments among society.”

Then in mid-April it was reported that the generals were lying:

Pol Col Mongkhon Samphawaphon revealed to BBC Thai that the police have not received CCTV footage at the checkpoint where the Lahu activist Chaiyapoom Pasae was killed on 17 March.

The police submitted a request to the military for the footage. However, the military unit whose personnel is responsible for the killing has not yet sent it to the police investigator.

Intimidation continued.

In mid-May 2017, it was reported that police had received the CCTV video. The police stated that they had “spent a week unable to view critical footage because they didn’t have a computer with the necessary software to watch it.”

Then, almost six months after Chaiyapoom was killed and over five months after the military first stated it had handed the CCTV footage to police investigators, a lawyer for Chaiyapoom’s family said he was concerned about the CCTV footage which was prime evidence. He said he did not know whether the military has given the footage to prosecutor.

Later still, the CCTV video remained “unavailable”:

Although the trial in the killing of ethnic Lahu activist Chaiyapoom Pasae began over seven months ago, the court has not yet received the Army’s CCTV footage, critical evidence which recorded soldiers shooting the activist.

According to Sumitchai Hattasan, the lawyer for Chaiyapoom’s family, the Army had already sent the CCTV hard disk to the police, but the file cannot be opened. The lawyer said that he would ask the court to order the Army to resend the footage early next year.

As court proceedings continued, it was reported:

After the incident, the army delivered the camera footage in a hard disk drive to the police who proceeded with the case at Chiang Mai Provincial Court. A number of hearings have taken place since September last year.

However, human rights lawyer Sumitchai Hattasan, who represents Chaiyaphum’s family, said recently that it is unlikely that the prosecutor will refer to the CCTV camera footage as evidence. The Central Police Forensic Science Division has submitted a report on its examination of the army’s hard disk drive to the prosecutor, saying there was “no footage of the time of occurrence” even though the drive was running normally.

In June 2018, a Chiang Mai court’s “verdict” on Chaiyapoom’s killing was delivered, concluding that “the young Lahu activist … was killed by army bullets…”. And that’s it.

Again, Chaiyaphoom’s lawyer and family petitioned the Army to reveal the CCTV footage at the military checkpoint where the activist was slain. The court did not see the footage which the military claimed vindicated its men.

Now it is reported – some 17 months after the extrajudicial killing – the Army would have the public believe that there is no footage. That’s what they have now told the family.

This is breathtakingly dumb. Those generals, then, were simply lying. They cannot be believed on anything at all. They are scoundrels of the lowest order.

More importantly, they may have engaged in malfeasance justifying legal proceedings against them.

Now it is claimed the tape was erased. It is claimed it was never there having been erased to create space on the tape/disk for additional recording.

So what did the generals view? Porn perhaps? Family holiday videos? Blank screens? We think not. We actually think the generals did not lie. Rather, they saw the events, realized it was incriminating its troops of an extrajudicial murder, and after hiding the evidence, it has now been erased.

That’s a criminal act. The Bangkok Post’s editorial doesn’t say anything about that, but says this:

Thailand has been unable to hold state officials accountable for extrajudicial killings, torture or forced disappearances due to a flawed and biased justice process.

The missing footage once again will prevent the justice system from fulfilling its mission of getting to the bottom of yet another mysterious killing.

Its time to say that the justice system under the military dictatorship is incapable of delivering anything resembling justice.


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19 03 2019
Get rid of the junta | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] is now two years since the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae on 17 March 2017. What happened when the military involved were […]

19 03 2019
Get rid of the junta | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] is now two years since the extrajudicial killing of Chaiyapoom Pasae on 17 March 2017. What happened when the military involved were […]

23 05 2019
No justice from the military | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] PPT’s summary of the murder of Chaiyaphoom is worth re-reading for the details of this horrendous cover-up that began from the moment he was murdered. The impunity is staggering, even for the junta’s Thailand. […]

10 06 2019
Updated: Assassins and other thugs | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] blocked by trees, so they have no footage of the assailants…”. Even if there was, the police would do nothing. Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, makes the obvious point: “The failure of Thai authorities […]