Last week, in front of diplomats, journalists and members of the United Nations, Amnesty International was forced by Thai authorities to cancel the launch of its report on torture in the country.
Titled “Make Him Speak by Tomorrow: Torture and Other Ill-treatment in Thailand, ” the report details 74 cases of detention and interrogation since the junta-led government came to power in 2014.
Asia Calling correspondent Kannikar Petchakaew has more.
Yuval Ginbar is standing in a hotel lobby in the heart of Bangkok.
Surrounded by plainclothes police officers he’s under pressure as he quotes part of the Amnesty International report.
“I slept with fear. I was afraid of death. I have never felt anything like this in my life. I lost all hope. I thought they would kill me, so I just asked them to shoot me because I could not bear it anymore. On the worst day, I said to them ‘Please shoot me and send my corpse to my family,” he quotes.
Ginbar flew in from London to deliver the findings in the report, which was planned to be held here at this hotel.
That is, until the authorities turned up and informed him that he could be in breach of his visa if he continued.
Ginbar was forced to leave the event room, and instead started speaking to reporters in the lobby.
“I’ve got the UK passport. I don’t feel particularly threatened. But there are human rights defenders in Thailand, [they] were actually prosecuted for criminal defamation for doing exactly what we are doing now,” he stated.
Ginbar has researched torture for the more than 15 years, and led the team of Amnesty researchers here in Thailand.
Some of the findings in the report, includes how an existing law that allows officers to detain suspects for seven days has been abused.
“Thai law provided, for instance, that a detainee be brought before [a] judge within 48 hours, that the lawyer can meet them, that the family can meet them,” explains Ginbar.
“All of these were thrown out of the window during these 7 days. What we found in the South and in Bangkok was that when the army interrogate people, this is the time that they torture people as well,” he continued.
The report claims the junta government, led by General Prayuth Chan-Ocha has allowed a climate of torture to flourish since it seized power through a coup in 2014.
Soldiers and police, say the report, have subjected alleged insurgents and political opponents to various forms of torture, such as waterboarding, suffocation, applying electric shocks to their genitals and other forms of humiliation.
Thai authorities have denied the allegations.
But across town, Thai human rights activist Pornpen Kongkajornkiat, says the allegations are nothing new.
These days a lot of Kongkajornkiat’s work is focused on documenting the fatal victims of torture.
“Mainly what we work on is the deaths in custody,” Kongkajornkiat says.
“Because they’re the bodies that can be autopsied, that show evidence more than the survivors. Because the survivors of torture are subject to further detention and they are fearful. They don’t have legal means to fight back,” explained Kongkajornkiat.
Pipop Udomittipong is another long-time social critic.
In the past 2 years he knows of dozens of people who have been intimidated and silenced for speaking out against what they see as undemocratic rule under junta rule.
“More than 300 people have been arrested and several of them have stood trial in the military courts. This really has a chilling effect; basically it’s not a free and fair process,” Udomittipong said.
Udomittipong himself is walking a very fine line. He has also been ‘visited’ by the police several times and told to keep his ideas about freedom of expression and civil rights to himself.
But Udomittipong says that at some point, something has to give.
“You have to untie the knot. Make some holes to let the pressure go [out]. In many modern democracies they do have places where people can vent their anger toward the government, toward the ruling party. But that doesn’t exist here,” Udomittipong reflects.
Back at the hotel, Ginbar is still surrounded by the same plainclothes officers, but continues to talk to reporters.
The launch of the report might have been obstructed, but its findings are still available online and Ginbar is hopeful that things can change for the better.
“We hope as much of the change would come from inside and from outside pressure. We are not afraid to say, please pressure Thailand to respect its own human rights obligations,” Ginbar stated.
Meters away, in the function room where the report was to be delivered, participants are trying to make sense of why the event was shut down.
In one corner, a journalist starts reading from the prohibited report, quoting a victim.
“They sent me to the dark room, a dirty room with nothing in it. It was about 3 metres by 3 metres; no toilet, just an empty room. When I needed to go to the toilet, I just did it in there. I was left in there from 5pm until 9am. No food. No water. No contact with anyone. No lights. I felt hopeless. Like I was already dead.”