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With the statute of limitations set to expire in October 2024, families of those killed in the Tak Bai Massacre have filed a criminal lawsuit against 9 military, police, and civil officials involved in the incident.

Representatives of Tak Bai Massacre victims' families at the Narathiwat Provincial Court on 25 April. (Photo by Muhammad Dueramae)

The Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) reported that, on 25 April, family representatives and their lawyers file charges with the Narathiwat Provincial Court against 9 officials for their alleged involvement in the massacre, which resulted in the death of 85 people.  The charges included murder by torture or acts of cruelty, coercion, unlawful detention, and malfeasance. 

On 25 October 2004, a demonstration took place in front of the Tak Bai Provincial Police Station in Narathiwat.  The protest was in response to the detention of 6 members of a village security team accused of providing arms to insurgents. The detainees claimed that their weapons had been stolen. After the crowd grew to around 2000 people, police attempted to disperse the protest with tear gas and water cannons. When protesters responded by throwing rocks, police shot them, killing 7 people. 

Over 1300 people were detained at the scene. They were stripped to the waist and had their hands tied behind their backs. Some were beaten with gunstocks. They were then stacked on top of each other in trucks and transported to Fort Ingkhayutthaborihan, a military base in Pattani, 150 kilometres from the original location of the protest. 78 more people died from suffocation or organ failure during the 5-hour drive.

Busra, whose older brother was killed in the massacre, said that she initially thought that legal proceedings were over, since victims’ families received compensation from the government. However, she later learned that although a Songkhla Provincial Court inquest had been closed, the prosecutor had yet to indict the officers involved. She explained that the families decided to file charges against the officials because they felt that the men responsible should be held to account. 

According to CrCF, several families told their lawyers they were harassed in March 2024 by men claiming to be police officers. The men were not wearing uniforms and did not present ID cards. They tried to force family members to visit a police station to discuss compensation for victims of the Tak Bai Massacre, telling them that their travel expenses would be covered. The families suspect that they were being harassed so that they would not file the lawsuit. 

On 10 March 2024, family representatives filed a petition with parliament’s ad-hoc committee on promoting peace in the Deep South to ask for an investigation into the alleged harassment. 

Busra said that victim’s families still feel they have not received justice. She also express concern about a rumour that the case file on Tak Bai had gone missing and wondered if it had been intentionally destroyed. She added that despite the warnings they had received and the police harassment, the families were not afraid and would continue to work to win the case. She hopes the Tak Bai case could set a precedence so that other victims of state violence can file charges against responsible parties.

‘If we win this case, at least we can let the world see that there is still justice in Thailand,” she said.

CrCF director Pornpen Khongkachonkiet noted that although the Tak Bai Massacre inquest found evidence that victims had been tortured, the results only stated that they died from suffocation and did not say what caused them to suffocate. She feels that in so much as the result of the inquest was not in line with public expectations and the testimony of other detainees and family members, it has led to conflict. As families of the dead and those injured during the massacre have had to live with trauma, Pornpen is not surprised that they are filing the lawsuit. 

“This case will be a test for the Thai justice system, especially the capability of the judges in solving conflict by revealing the truth in court. Accepting this case is very important for the peace process, for resolving a long-standing conflict by adhering to the rule of law,” she said. 

In a related matter, Move Forward Party MP Romadon Panjor posted a letter on his Facebook account from police headquarters to the Office of the Attorney General. Dated 25 April, the letter states that the Commissioner of Provincial Police Region 9 does not want the 8 officials involved in the Tak Bai Massacre to be indicted. The letter states that the officials’ action were appropriate for the circumstances and that the deaths were beyond their control, as they did not intend to kill the detainees during transportation and did not anticipate that they would die. 

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