Thai red shirt activist Kritsuda Khunasem during on YouTube interview, in which she accuses the Thai military junta of torture during her detainment in June 2014. (Screenshot: YouTube)

A young Thai activist for the red shirt movement, who was detained by the military junta shortly after the coup under suspicious circumstances and released after much public attention about her whereabouts, has accused that she was physically assaulted and mentally abused during her detention.

A spokesman for the military junta dismissed Kritsuda Khunasen’s claim Sunday, insisting that all detainees are treated “with respect to human rights and with politeness”.

Kritsuda Khunasen was best known for providing legal and other aid to fellow red shirts and their families, especially those affected after the anti-government protests of 2010 and the deadly military crackdown.

She was arrested on May 28 – days after the military coup of May 22 – in Chonburi province under martial law and vanished for a several weeks, raising serious concerns about her whereabouts and wellbeing.

The military has denied any knowledge of her whereabouts despite television footage showing that she was arrested and taken away by soldiers from the 14th Military Circle. (…)

Since Kritsuda’s arrest, her family and Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) have tried unsuccessfully to locate her. Human Rights Watch has publicly raised concerns about Kritsuda’s safety and other secret military detentions.

Kritsuda has already been held two weeks longer than the seven-day period of administrative detention permitted under the 1949 Martial Law Act, which the military invoked after carrying out its coup on May 22, 2014.

Thailand: Account for ‘Disappeared’ Political Activist“, Human Rights Watch, June 18, 2014

With the army being tight-lipped about Kritsuda’s fate, public and international pressure intensified, as did the rumors with some fearing the worst. Faced with such strong accusations, the army then showed that the 27-year old was still very much alive in a TV report on the military-owned Channel 5. What was shown then was rather bizarre:

Kritsuda Khunasen, (….), saying that she was satisfied with her living conditions and “happier than words can say.” (…)

The news section revealed a smiling Kritsuda giving an interview and having a meal with her boyfriend who was also detained after the coup. She said she was satisfied with what the military has provided her, whether food, accommodation, or any other request.

It also reported Kritsuda as saying that detention made her feel “calm by spending more time by herself.” She said she wanted the political conflict to start over by having all sides talk, according to the report.

She also dismissed a viral video clip done by a person claiming to be her brother, saying that she was tortured. She said that was false information.

Missing activist appears on Army TV, saying she’s “happier than words can say”“, Prachatai, June 24, 2014

Following that TV appearance, Kritsuda was released the following day.

On Saturday, exiled Thai journalist Jom Petchpradab posted a half-hour long interview with Kritsuda on YouTube, who has meanwhile fled with her boyfriend (who was also arrested) to an undisclosed location somewhere in Europe. In the video, she gave an entirely different account of her detention by the junta:

In the interview via Skype, Kritsuda said she was blindfolded and her hands were bound on the first seven days of the detention. During this period, a female officer would help her when eating, taking a bath, and when she wanted to go to the toilet. She said while she was naked during taking bath, she heard a male voice. “I consider this sexual harassment.”

(…) She said she was beaten several times during the interrogation. She was also suffocated when a plastic bag and a piece of fabric was placed over her head until she lost consciousness.

The embattled red-shirt activist said the focus of the interrogation was to link former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra with her boss “May E.U.,” and the militant wing of the red shirt camp.

Mananchaya Ketkaew, aka “May E.U.”, is a low-profile red-shirt figure who represents the pro-Thaksin “Red E.U.” of red shirts in Europe. (…) There has been a rumor that the group is financially supported by the former Prime Minister. Kritsuda said Thaksin had never supported the group and that the donations were from May and red shirts in Europe.

She added that on 15 June she was forced to sign a paper stating that she had asked the military to allow her to continue staying in the camp for longer than the period allowed under martial law for pre-charge detention, and she had to also state that she felt safer inside the camp. “I had to write that statement because I wanted to survive.”

Kritsuda reveals military tortured her to link Thaksin to hard-core red shirts“, Prachathai, August 2, 2014

The video was widely shared on social media before it was apparently taken down by Jom himself with no further explanation, although other uploads of the interview have popped up elsewhere. Additionally, the online report by Prachatai English we have cited above was also reportedly blocked in Thailand, but an alternative link was provided.

Speaking Sunday, a spokesman for the junta emphasized how “naturally happy” she was during the TV appearance in June. The spokesman added that she was “cooperative” and concludes that she was “worried and felt unsafe about the repercussions [from the red shirts] from giving helpful information to the authorities.”

Considering the tightening grip of the military junta, the mass summons and temporary detentions of hundreds of politically active Thais (among them politicians, academics and activists) in its early weeks, the widespread censorship in media and online – it will be near impossible to find out what really happened, especially with the junta claiming to respect human rights, but not allowing dissident voices claiming the contrary. The moves by the junta during the entirety of Kritsuda’s ordeal (e.g. the bizarre TV appearance, the censorship of the latest accusations) shows that they have had to deal with more public attention that they would prefer.

Kritsuda Khunasen and her boyfriend are currently seeking asylum from an as of yet unnamed European country.

UPDATE: A new video was uploaded on Monday showing a new portion of the same interview with Kritsuda, in which she details the torture allegations of her and her boyfriend, and also explains why she has no visible bruises.

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About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut blogs about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and works as freelance foreign TV correspondent. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.