The Association for the Prevention of Torture has the following blurb on Pornpen Khongkachonkiet:
Despite growing intimidation from authorities, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director of the Cross Cultural Foundation, continues to assist marginalised communities, especially torture victims and their families in Southern Thailand, to access justice. She also supports the communities’ efforts to address the widespread culture of impunity.
“Community activism is important. There are people in the community that the military will listen to – the Imams, lawyers and teachers. The community is actually powerful in curbing torture.”
Pornpen, or Noinoi as she is affectionately known, has also been at the frontline for a national campaign to criminalise torture in Thailand. This process is still pending, but the campaign work has increased her commitment to prevent torture and to the cooperation forged between the Cross Cultural Foundation and the APT. In 2013 Noinoi spent six months in Geneva as APT’s inaugural Asia Pacific fellow. Her experience with APT has been a remarkable learning journey, which she is looking forward to sharing with her local partners in Thailand. Among other things, she is writing a handbook on detention monitoring for civil society in Southern Thailand.
BP: So what does the military think of her?
The Thai Government and the Thai army should immediately stop their abusive resort to criminal defamation laws to silence human rights defenders, said the ICJ, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International today.
On 20 May 2014, the Thai army lodged a criminal complaint against Thai human rights defender Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and her organization Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) for “damaging the reputation” of Taharn Pran Paramilitary Unit 41, stationed in Thailand’s deep South, Yala province, by requesting an investigation into an allegation of physical assault.
The ICJ, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (AI) are calling for the immediate withdrawal of the complaint.
The complaint arises out of an open letter that Pornpen Khongkachonkiet wrote on 2 May 2014 to the Commander of Internal Operations Security Command (ISOC) in Region 4, responsible for Thailand’s southern border provinces.
In the letter, she requested an investigation into allegations that military personnel had seriously beaten a man while arresting him in April 2014.
She asserted that if the allegations were true, it would be a violation of Thai law and the Convention against Torture, to which Thailand is a party.
On 8 May 2014, ISOC, the Royal Thai Police, Taharn Pran Paramilitary Unit 41, and others including the doctor who examined the victim of the alleged assault, issued a press release, stating that an investigation had been carried out which had found that the allegation of assault was untrue.
The press release went on to say that CrCF should be responsible for intentionally distorting the truth and spreading false statements to the public.
This case is the second instance in the past 12 months of the Thai armed forces misusing the criminal justice system to intimidate human rights defenders working to monitor and document human rights violations.
In December 2013, the Royal Thai Navy lodged a criminal complaint against the editors of a Thai news website, Phuketwan, accusing them of criminal defamation and of violating Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act (CCA) for reproducing portions of a Pulitzer Prize-winning article written by the Reuters news agency concerning the alleged smuggling and trafficking of Rohingya people, an ethnic minority group in Myanmar facing systemic discrimination and violence.
The criminal complaint against Pornpen Khongkachonkiet and CrCF constitutes an attack on their work as human rights defenders and poses a serious threat to the exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
In addition, the criminal complaint undermines the right of the victim of the alleged ill-treatment to a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into his case, without intimidation, as guaranteed under international law, including human rights treaties to which Thailand is party.
CrCF is a non-profit, non-governmental, foundation founded in 2002 that has dedicated significant resources to the deep South of Thailand since 2004, including by monitoring and documenting allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, and other serious human rights violations. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet is also a member of the board of AI Thailand.
ICJ, Human Rights Watch and AI said that the authorities in Thailand have an obligation to ensure that all persons and organizations engaged in the protection and promotion of human rights are able to work in a safe and enabling environment.
BP: If you thought that there was some recognition from the military that the débâcle over taking action against Phuketwan was hurting the reputation of the military then that another military unit has filed another criminal defamation suggests this is not the case (BP blogged on on the Phuketwan case here). Will this now be the standard MO of the military when responding to accusations of torture?
Amy of Reuters on the criminal defamation suit:
“The army’s action is arbitrary and heavy-handed,” said Anucha Wintachai of rights group the Union for Civil Liberties.”It highlights what appears to be an increasing number of criminal defamation suits brought against those doing a public service, including rights workers and those in the media.”
“The legal action against me has had a multi-faceted impact,” Pornpen told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“Victims are scared off from coming forward and speaking to me and it prevents me from doing my work. I understand they want me to stop working. If that’s what they want, I can’t do it.”
Criminal defamation suits have a 96 percent conviction rate, said David Streckfuss, an independent scholar based in Thailand, and an expert on its laws designed to protect the monarchy.
BP: To instil fear in people coming forward and as a method to convince Pornpen to change careers paths would seemingly be the rational on the military’s side for this criminal defamation suit.
btw, AHRC has a link to excerpts of the letter.