On Feb. 12, a Thai police spokesman announced that a high-ranking official, Lt. Col. Chan Chaisawatra, had committed suicide.
We believe he didn’t commit suicide. We believe he was murdered, the latest in a long series of “suicides” that began last year in what amounts to a reign of terror within the Royal Thai Police.
The claim that he committed suicide is belied by the fact that Chan had been promised a promotion a month earlier. Our investigation in Bangkok has revealed that the junta wanted to set an example for any government employees of the consequences of daring to challenge the authority of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of the May 23, 2014 coup that brought down a democratically elected government and who this week is meeting with President Barack Obama in Rancho Mirage, California. Prayuth named himself prime minister after the coup.
On Feb. 8, Chan lodged a formal complaint regarding the use of the junta's notorious Article 44 which gives universal power to the junta leader, including the disbandment of the officer's investigative division at the police department.
According to the official translated language of Article 44, the measure “empowers the leader of the National Council for Peace and Order” – Prayuth himself – to issue any order “for the sake of the reforms in any field, the promotion of love and harmony amongst the people in the nation, or the prevention, abatement or suppression of any act detrimental to national order or security, royal throne, national economy or public administration, whether the act occurs inside or outside the kingdom.”
The orders as issued are all deemed “lawful, constitutional and final” in advance. In a word, that empowers the former general to arrest anybody he wants, and to come up with the reasons to do it by citing his own version of the risk to national security, not only in the country but anywhere on the planet that he presumably could reach. Thailand has asked several nations including Japan and the United States to extradite critics of the regime, but has been rebuffed.
Chan’s death, after 20 years of service, has sent a shiver to every police officer in Thailand. It is an indication of how much more an ordinary person would face, if any of the military thugs wants to give trouble to him or her.
The news of his death has not been reported by any Thai media at the moment or they could face grave consequences including the shutdown of their publication.
Late last year, Maj. Gen. Paween Pongsirin, another high-ranking Thai police officer resigned and escaped death, fleeing to Australia in fear of his life. He had led an investigation into a mass grave containing at least 36 bodies of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar oppression that was discovered in May 2015 near the border with Malaysia. The inquiry resulted in charges against more than 90 people including Royal Thai Army Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpan, who was accused of being the boss of a human trafficking syndicate.
The situation in Thailand is getting worse by the hour. On the outside, it appears that life is going on as normal but in truth, people live in fear. Most of those who have taken flight or been arrested have been charged with lese-majeste, the country’s draconian law against insulting the monarchy, or violation of its equally oppressive Computer Crimes Act.
Those who have fled the country besides Paween include Police Gen. Khachachart Boondee as well as Maj. Gen. Suchart Prommai, former 11th Infantry Regiment commander now stripped of military rank; Police Col. Col Pairoj Rojanakhajorn, a former chief of the Crime Suppression Division’s Sub-Division 2; and his-then deputy Lt Col Thammawat Hiranyalekha.
Police Major Prakrom Warunprapa and Major General Pisitsak Saneewong na Ayutthaya, the chief bodyguard of Prince Vajiralongkorn, supposedly committed suicide in jail. The prince’s soothsayer, Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, aka Mor Yong, supposedly died of renal failure. Former police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri also disappeared.
Academics and past politicians dare not exercise free speech. Countless numbers of Red Shirts and pro-democracy activists has disappeared without any traces. Their loved ones and relatives have contacted me but I couldn't help them. I am now living in exile in the United States.
The United States, the U.K., the E.U., Australia, New Zealand, Japan and all other civilized nations must continue to put pressure on the illegal regime of Gen. Prayuth to respect human rights and stop murdering people who speak their minds peacefully.
Charupong Ruangsuwan is the executive-director of the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy (OFHD), based in San Francisco. He was the caretaker leader of Pheu Thai, the political party formerly headed by Yingluck Shinawatra