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Human rights defenders accused by the military of criminal defamation for exposing torture in the Deep South have urged prosecutors to seek more witnesses.      

On 21 February 2017, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director of the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF); Somchai Homla-or, Advisor to the CrCF; and Anchana Heemmina, President of the Duay Jai group, submitted a letter to the Office of Provincial Public Prosecution in the Deep South province of Pattani.

The letter asks the prosecutors to demand that police officers interrogate 14 more witnesses, reasoning that the police have only questioned some 10 witnesses even though there are more than 20 witnesses willing to testify in the three’s defence.

The prosecutors accepted the letter and informed the three that they will discuss the issue with them on 21 March 2017.

“All the information that we use was in accordance with the forms of the UN which are the international standard and in accordance with academic standards. The fact that we say the truth and face criminal charges diminishes freedom of academic communication and the people’s freedom of expression,” Voice TV quoted Surapong Kongchantuek, President of the CrCF, as saying.

Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4 filed complaints against the three human rights defenders on 17 May 2016. They were accused of defaming ISOC for publishing a report, released in 2016, on the torture of ethnic Muslim Malays in the Deep South in 2014 and 2015.

Col Pramote Promin, spokesperson for ISOC Region 4, said that after an investigation to verify the torture report, the military could identify only 18 of the 54 alleged torture victims documented in the report. He maintains further that the detention reports of the 18, and other evidence handed to ISOC Region 4, provide no solid evidence of torture and ill-treatment at the hands of the authorities.

Refusing to cow down, the three insist on their innocence and that they will continue to fight against the lawsuit.

“The charges are used to shut human rights defenders up but we will not back down from exposing rights violations,” said Somchai. “In conflict-ridden regions like the Deep South, we need to expose human rights violations to bring true peace.”

(From left to right) Somchai Homla-or, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, and Anchana Heemmina (file photo)

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