Myanmar suspects tortured, rights panel says

Myanmar suspects tortured, rights panel says
Two workers from Myanmar (wearing helmets and handcuffs), suspected of killing two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao last month, stand near Thai police officers during a re-enactment of the alleged crime, where the bodies of the tourists were found on the island on Oct 3, 2014.

Two Myanmar men facing charges of murdering British tourists on Koh Tao were tortured, according to the ongoing probe by a subcommittee of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

If police representatives fail to show up today to provide explanations on the alleged torture, the subcommittee will conclude its probe that way and report the issue to the NHRC.

"Police representatives did not answer our summons four times already - on Oct 20, Oct 27, Nov 3 and Nov 10," the subcommittee's chairman Niran Pitakwatchara said late last week. He said available information had pointed to the torture even though there were no physical injuries visible on the suspects at the time human-rights advocates reached them.

In the middle of September two British tourists were brutally killed on Koh Tao, an island in Surat Thani province in the Gulf of Thailand.

After the murder made headlines both locally and internationally, Thai police arrested two Myanmar workers for the crimes based on DNA test results in early October.

However, the workers soon recanted and lamented that they were forced into confessing to crimes they had not committed.

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, who also sits on the NHRC subcommittee, said the suspects had been detained around Oct 1 and 2, but her team first met them on Oct 13. "So, it's possible that the traces of injuries might have already disappeared," she said.

Pornpen said she only interviewed the suspects after they had already been sent to Samui Island.

"We haven't been to Koh Tao. People who have been there tell us that in fact security cameras were widely available but after the crimes happened, no one knew where recordings from those cameras are. Those who agree to talk us don't dare to give much information. And they prefer to talk in a place outside Koh Tao," she said.

Niran said his subcommittee had so far not looked into whether the two suspects had committed the murders or not, but whether they had been abused when in police custody. "We don't have the duty to arrest suspects or check DNA. Our duty is to protect human rights. We have to check if police have abused their authority while the suspects were in detention."

He said the subcommittee's actions were made under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

The NHRC panel said the suspects said they were slapped in the face and their heads were covered with a plastic bag and then a second bag while in custody. They were told they would face serious harm and be thrown into the sea if they did not confess to the murders of the two Britons.

Niran said his subcommittee also found that interrogators relied on a Rohingya for interpretation, even though various sources say there has been ethnic, religious and cultural conflicts between Myanmar and Rohingya people.

"There is a possibility of the interpreter perpetuating the violence against the suspects. One of the suspects said the interpreter also took more than Bt4,000 (S$157) from him, claiming that the amount would be forwarded to his parents. So far, the money has not reached his family, according to details we have gathered," Niran said. He said "torture" did not mean physical harm alone because methods like covering suspects' heads with plastic bags and threats of violence, which the suspects claimed they had faced during interrogation, also qualified as a form of torture.

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