Tuesday, July 26, 2011


This tragic news about the brutality of Thai military reminds me of the films A FEW GOOD MEN (1992, Rob Reiner, A+) and REDEMPTION (2008, Sabrina Wulff, A++++++++++). I think the story in this news should be adapted into a Thai film, or at least a Thai documentary, so that people will not forget this tragic incident.

The news below is copied from Bangkok Post:

When Songkhla native Wichen Puaksom left home to join the military in May, he was healthy, energetic, and eager to serve the nation.

A month later, the lifeless, bruise-covered body of the 26-year-old masters graduate was back in his home town to be cremated.

Wichen did not die in the service of the country he loved, but was beaten to death at his military camp by about a dozen lowranked and mid-ranked soldiers as punishment for disobeying orders and absconding from camp. Wichen’s disfigured face and injured body moved family members to the conviction that justice must be done for Wichen.
They started submitting petition letters to state agencies seeking an explanation for what happened.

The Narathiwat Ratchanakarin army camp, where he served time as a conscript, sent soldiers to his funeral, asking if it could cover his coffin with the national flag, but the family refused.

His family says the flag draped over Wichen’s coffin cannot disguise the atrocity which he suffered at the hands of the state. They say Wichen was beaten to death in a form of institutionalised torture condoned by army top brass to drum "discipline" into errant troops.

Wichen, who reported for conscription after leaving the monkhood, might have found life as a conscript unbearable, so fled the Narathiwat Ratchanakarin military camp where he was being trained.

When soldiers from the camp caught up with him, they beat him as punishment, in a form of military correctional training known as "repairing".

The Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which investigated his death at the request of Wichen’s family, says he was beaten over the course of 2 days, and denied medical treatment by the army when fighting for his life.

Wichen died in Narathiwat Provincial Hospital’s intensive care unit on June 5 of multiple injuries, including acute renal failure, and severe muscle injury.

The commission believes he was subjected to two days of beating, starting on June 1.

His mother, Prathuang Puaksom, a farmer and vendor in Songkhla province, is struggling to come to terms with the loss. "I could not believe that it was him, as I barely recognised him in hospital. I don't know why he had to suffer so much," she said.

Her plucky niece, student Narisarawan Kaewnopparat, has taken up the fight for justice on the family's behalf.

"We want the military to acknowledge publicly what it has done," said Narisarawan, a student at Thammasat University, adding that her grandmother does not want this cruelty to happen to any family in the future.

She recalls Wichen, her mother's youngest brother, as a quietly spoken, unassuming man who did not pick fights with anyone.

"Four people in Songkhla who attended his funeral told us that their sons died in the same way.

"They did not dare complain. They asked, ‘How can poor farmers such as ourselves fight the army? We have no power'," she said.

She has petitioned the army, the government, and Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinasolanonda, a former army head who is also a Songkhla native.

Her advocacy met with partial success, when the Fourth Army Region set up an inquiry into the attack. In its finding, it says it will discipline the officers involved.

"My grandmother is in such pain. She was looking forward to relying on my uncle, as he is the youngest son," Narisarawan said.

"She was proud of him as he was a good, humble person and excelled at study as well."

Wichen reported for military service on May 1, and made his first escape from the camp on May 9.

He fled a second time on May 29, but, without money, was forced to take shelter nearby.

The army caught him, and started to work on him with a regime of "disciplinary improvement" or "repairing" on June 1.

Eyewitnesses told the military committee that the punishment started at 11.50am on June 1, and lasted until 1 am of June 2.

He suffered extensive injuries during the ordeal but was not sent to nearby Chor Ai-Rong district hospital in Narathiwat until June 3.
A doctor told the commission hearing that the army would not allow Wichen to be admitted.

Officers merely wanted his injuries treated, after which they would take him back to camp to be cared for by an army physician. However, the hospital doctor insisted he be admitted, as his condition was serious.
The commission sub-committee investigating the death learned later that the doctor in-charge at the camp was on leave.

Officers relented and allowed Wichen to be admitted after lengthy negotiations with the doctor.

Chor Ai-rong hospital referred him to Narathiwat provincial hospital, as he needed specialised equipment to help his kidneys.

At the provincial hospital, Wichen was admitted to intensive care, his condition severe. No one told his family.

His mother and brother learned that he had been admitted only by accident, after a friend happened to visit the hospital on June 4.
It was evening. They were unable to travel to Narathiwat immediately, for fear of their safety in the dark.

Nor could they afford a car. Wichen's mother and brother travelled by bus to the hospital the next day, arriving about 1pm.

By then, Wichen was too ill to speak. "His eyes were still open but he could no longer speak, but we learned from well-wishers later what happened — how many people tortured him, and their ranks," said Manas, his elder brother.

The family is amazed that the army would resort to such vicious conduct, just to ensure a soldier obeys orders.

"Wichen entered the military after serving in the monkhood for eight years. He might not have been as strong as people who had been working outside the monkhood," said Mr Manas.

Wichen recently finished a master's degree at Thammasat University, and earlier graduated with a bachelor's degree from Maha Chula Ratchawittayalai (Buddhist) University with first class honours.
On July 11, the commission asked the army to send officers in charge at the camp to testify.

Angkhana Neelapaijit, a member of the NHRC's sub-committee investigating the death, said she could not believe what went on. "I could not believe that this is how they punish someone who fails to follow orders," she said.

When Wichen's body returned home on June 6, his family said it was covered in bruises. Even his private parts were swollen —"the size of a coconut", said Ms Angkhana, a former nurse.

Twenty-seven witnesses testified before the Fourth Army Region's investigation, which like its NHRC counterpart, was held behind closed doors.

The army probe identified the main culprit as an officer high on methamphetamines. He was sent for a test for illegal substances, which came back positive.

The inquiry found that 13 officers, both high- and low-ranking, were involved in Wichen's death.

The report summarises the events which led up to his death as follows.

When he was sent back to camp on June 1, he was slapped in the face by
an assistant trainer, who ordered two other soldiers to "repair" him while an officer looked on. Two officers dragged Wichen by the legs across a cement floor. He was naked but for his underwear.

Eyewitness also reported seeing officers kick him with their combat shoes, stomp on his legs and body, and apply salt to his wounds. They also trampled on his chest, again as an assistant trainer looked on. This round of "repairing" lasted for two hours.

Wichen was taken to the showers and sent to a nursing room, where other officers carried on kicking him. Around 5.45 pm, five to six conscripts were told to carry Wichen, who was wrapped in white cloth, his hands tied, around as if he was dead.

At the military camp canteen, he was told to sit on a large block of ice while wearing only his underwear.

He was carried by six soldiers to the front of the training unit with a block of ice sitting on his chest.

In front of the training unit, Wichen was ordered to perform exercises. A mid-ranking officer beat him with a bamboo stick as he was going too slowly.

He kicked Wichen's ribs and chest, trampled on his neck, and kicked him in the face until blood flowed. Wichen begged them to stop and said he wouldn't refuse their orders any more.

An officer who looked down from the second floor of the training unit told the officer beating Wichen not to treat him too harshly, but did nothing to stop the attack. The mid-ranking officer took Wichen to the rear of the training unit where he continued beating him with his feet and a bamboo stick until 11pm.

This attack lasted five hours. Eyewitnesses said they found Wichen in a bad condition in the nursing room on June 2, but nobody dared send him to hospital. Wichen asked a conscript to tell his mother if he happened to die of his injuries, as he felt in pain all over his body.

Officers did not take him to hospital until the next day. According to a letter from the Fourth Army Region to the army chief of June 30, the army has recommended punishing the officers involved.

One high-ranking officer has been warned; four other officers will be confined for 15 days; two officers will be confined for seven days; three middle-rank and six low-rank officers will be confined for 30 days.

The Fourth Army Region will impose "administrative procedures" on two highranking officers, confine two mid-ranking officers for three months and bring military charges against others.

One mid-ranking officer will be stripped of his rank, (after challenging Wichen to file charges against him with the army chief.)

The case is also being investigated by police, but Narisarawan is still sceptical her family will obtain justice, at least from the army.
"The Fourth Army was supposed to send four officers to the NHRC hearing, but in the end only two bothered to show up."

Beatings administered to conscripts to 'keep the armed forces tough'

Wichen Pauksom's family has faced an uphill battle seeking answers as to why he died. The army decides how much information it wants to issue. That deemed too sensitive, it protects in the name of "national security". The Bangkok Post asked the army on July 7 how many conscripts had died while being conscripted over the past five years.

We followed up the letter on July 21, when an official said no response had been received from the army's higher ranks.

The army has yet to acknowledge formally that it imposed a form of punishment known as "repairing", so no one knows what the army might define as an acceptable level of punishment. However, parents who are aware of the beating are known to be worried that their sons, if called up for conscription, could be next to befall the same fate.

Narisarawan Kaewnoparat, Wichen's niece, is determined to seek justice. "My family does not want this to happen to anyone else," she said. Wichen was required to serve as a military conscript.

Narissarawan understands that the army needs to make its men strong and tough. But this was going too far.

Under section 32 of the constitution, a person shall enjoy the right and liberty in his life and person.

Torture, brutal acts or punishment by a cruel or inhumane means are prohibited, and punishment delivered by the courts shall be reasonable as defined under international norms of cruel and inhumane treatment.

Where breaches occur, the injured person, public prosecutor or any person acting for the benefit of the injured person has the right to take a lawsuit to the court.

One lecturer at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, who asked not to be named, said the army believes the defence forces are "too weak". This lecturer said "repairing" is needed to make them obey orders. "If they are captured by a foreign army, they should be able to endure pain, or they could reveal official secrets.

"But the proper [method of] repairing is under consideration of the person in charge," the army teacher added. However, the government is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT).

As an extra safeguard, the constitution guarantees a person right and liberty in his life and person. Activist Angkhana Neelapaijit is a founder of the Justice for Peace Foundation and member of the Human Rights Commission sub-committee which investigated the death.

She said Wichen's case reflected many problems in Thai society. "When he reported to the military camp, his life was supposed to be under the care and protection of officials.

"However, he was tortured and deprived of access to care, even when the beating left him in a severe condition.

"The army still did not allow him to be treated. If it wasn't for the doctor at Chor Ai-rong hospital who insisted he be admitted, Wichen might have died sooner, or perhaps been reported 'missing' from the camp," she said.

She recommended "repairing" be abolished and said parents or relatives
should be allowed to see their sons while they are being trained. "It is hard to judge what is moderate or proper. But this is too much," she said, adding that if officials want conscripts to be tough, they need to be brave enough to admit their faults as well. They had yet to do so.

"They need to compensate the family fully, and justice must be done.

"If the mechanism in Thailand fails, we will take this issue before the United Nations, as Thailand is a signatory of the CAT," she said.

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