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The Thai military has dropped criminal defamation charges against three human rights defenders who exposed torture in Thailand’s Deep South.

On 7 March 2017, Col Pramote Promin, Deputy Spokesperson for Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4, said the military has withdrawn criminal defamation charges against Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director of the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF); Somchai Homla-or, Advisor to the CrCF; and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.

The ISOC officer announced that from now on ISOC will work more closely with civil society groups to verify reports about human rights violations in the restive region, as well as to reduce human rights violations. Col Pramote said that the military never wanted to file legal complaints against them in the first place.

He further stated that a joint committee will be set up to verify accusations of human rights violations in the region and to come up with mechanisms and frameworks to prevent abuses of human rights.

Somchai thanked the military for dropping the complaint, saying that the report was not meant to defame anyone, but that it compiled allegations of torture that warrant further investigation.

Anchana from Duay Jai group said she will continue to cooperate with other sectors in documenting human rights violations in the Deep South and continue to work hard to bring positive changes to the region.

Somchai added that tackling the culture of impunity that allows perpetrators of torture to walk free is a crucial step in reducing human rights violations.

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.

The report described at least 18 cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment since 22 May 2014, when Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha staged a coup d’état. In 2015 alone, there were 15 recorded cases, on top of a total of 17 recorded in 2014. This was a dramatic rise compared to previous years which saw seven cases in 2013, two in 2011, and three in 2010 (no information is available for 2012).

All the cases involved ethnic Malay residents in the conflict areas who identified themselves as Muslim.

Various methods of tortures were employed, including physical and psychological torture. The report says torture was applied to force victims to confess to crimes related to the insurgency. Most of the torture reportedly took place during interrogation.

In the violence-plagued southernmost provinces of Thailand — composed of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat and four districts of Songkhla — the authorities can detain citizens without charge for up to 37 days under the Emergency Decree and Internal Security Act. Special security laws have been in force in the region for more than a decade.

Complaints were filed against 48 military officers and 13 police officers for committing torture and ill-treatment, but no officers have yet been charged.

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