Tak Bai, Court Decision, the Media, and Emergency Law UPDATE
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Tak Bai, Court Decision, the Media, and Emergency Law UPDATE

UPDATE: A copy of the decision can be downloaded from here (PDF) am caught up with things now so will try to have a look in 3-4 hours.

h/t to the reader for the copy.

The Bangkok Post in an editorial:

The court decision on the Tak Bai incident shows that security forces truly need to reconsider their actions in the troubled area of the South. The wide attention given to the inquest proves that the southern violence is the nation’s most pressing security problem.

The hearings at the Songkhla Provincial Court revealed serious shortcomings in how successive governments, police and army have approached the issues in the four southernmost provinces. The follow-up to the inquest shows that officials still do not “get it” about the deep South and the Thais who live there.

The two-judge panel at Songkhla considered the actions of security forces at the district town of Tak Bai on Oct 25, 2004. There is no serious dispute about the main events of that tragic day. Police and the army used tear gas, batons and then live ammunition to put down an anti-government demonstration in the Narathiwat province town. Officers on the scene, backed by their superiors at various headquarters, insist deadly force was never employed.

Military officers trussed up 1,292 male protesters and loaded hundreds in the back of army trucks for transport to Ingkayuthaborihaan Army Camp in Pattani province. During the long trip, because they were packed so tightly into the trucks, and because they could not move due to their wrist shackles, at least 78 young men suffocated to death. Another seven died, allegedly by beatings and drownings by security forces, although no charges have been filed.

Some of the victims were not even involved in the protest. All had not eaten and were weaker than usual because they were observing the Ramadan fast. To put it another way, all were Muslim. The Thaksin government, and all subsequent governments, have refused to bring charges, or to make any political or security official accountable for the deaths of 85 unarmed, young Thai men. In 2007, the Surayud Chulanont government, under military rule, apologised for the deaths, dropped legal charges against 56 surviving protesters, and gave compensation that amounted to an average of 500,000 baht to each bereaved family.

Last Friday’s inquest ruled that security officials were carrying out their duty, and could not be blamed. One of the main points considered by the panel was an emergency law in effect at the time, which protected state officials from any civil, criminal or disciplinary liabilities while carrying out their official duties. Similar emergency laws protect police, army and other security officers today.

BP: BP is not sure whether the court decision has been reporting correctly and what is the basis of the reports (ie. did any of the papers actually have a reporter at the court or are they reporting based on other reports?). Matichon has stories on it here and here. The first link is a somewhat surprising read as it differs completely from the Post and The Nation. The Matichon article shows that that was not an acquittal of the suspects, but instead an inquest hearing on what transpired (who died, and the circumstances of how they died). Based on Matichon‘s detailed report of the case (well what an article can actually cite the case number, one gains confidence they may actually know what happens)

The findings of the two judges was that the victims died of asphyxiation. Further, the Court also established that the victims died while “in the custody of state officials who were performing their duties” (78 ถึงแก่ความตายในระหว่างอยู่ในความควบคุมของเจ้าพนักงานซึ่งปฏิบัติราชการตามหน้าที่). Ok, this was not really in dispute beforehand, but we have now have a court ruling that it is the case.

A commentator then notes:

The Court decision has to be sent to the investigating officer, who needs to then submit it to either the OAG (if it considers the officials involved were negligent) or the NCCC (if it considers they caused the deaths intentionally). AFTER that, the case will be brought to court.

Since it’s only an inquest/autopsy decision, Takbai case is actually still at embryonic stage acutally. Khun Angkhana’s hue and cry is a bit premature. But justice is indeed slow.

BP: This sounds accurate. The inquest ruling is cautious. It did not really establish who specifically did what, it just blandly states the government officials were performing their duties. This seems to imply they were not acting outside the scope of their duties. This though is not a vindication and could actually help in a civil lawsuit. If the actions of state officials is within the scope of their duties, the govenrment may be vicariously liable under civil law for the actions of the state officials (this is important as well there is no point suing the individual officer for money as they might not have any, you always go after the “person” with deep pockets).

BP should also note that BP cannot find a single mention of the State of Emergency legislation/decree in any Thai language report (well the fact that the law was not in force at the time makes it difficult to believe it was mentioned).Having read articles by Post Today and the two Matichon articles. A search on News Quest doesn’t show a single story where there is any mention of the State of Emergency. Deciding between who was likely more clueless between the Post and The Nation reported or the Thai language media, BP thinks it is the former.

h/t to a reader who confirmed BP’s suspicions after looking for info yesterday and found the Matichon article.