World Bulletin / News Desk
Thailand's anti-corruption commission is to press for charges against a non-commissioned military officer accused of beating an imam to death in southern Thailand, local media reported Tuesday.
The officer was one of several soldiers found guilty by a court in 2008 of the death, but neither was sentenced, punished, or named during proceedings despite police having identified them.
The Bangkok Post reported Sansern Poljiak, secretary general of the commission, as saying that it is to press for a criminal case and punishment of sub-lieutenant Sirikhet Wanitbamrung for his role in the killing of Yapa Kaseng in March 2008.
“We will ask the army to take severe disciplinary sanctions against him and we have asked the Office of the Attorney General to file a criminal case,” he said.
Wanitbamrung -- along with four other military officers -- is accused of beating to death the 56-year-old imam in Rueso district, in Thailand's southern province of Narathiwat - a region affected by a separatist rebellion for several decades.
The imam was initially arrested because he was suspected of involvement in the southern insurgency.
An autopsy found he had been subjected to physical assaults and beaten with “hard objects” during two days of interrogation. His ribs were broken and the bones had punctured his lungs, leading to his demise.
The ruling was greeted with uproar from human rights groups, and Kaseng’s relatives have since protested the “lack of justice”.
The Post on Monday reported Poljiak as saying that the anti-corruption commission was holding evidence that should push the army and criminal prosecutors to act against Wanitbamrung who faces ten years in jail.
The incident is not the first case of the military torturing Muslim suspects to death.
In August, an administrative court ordered the security agency responsible for southern Thailand to pay $82,000 in compensation to the family of Ashari Sama-ae, a 25-year-old Malay Muslim who died in July 2007 after being tortured by the military while in detention.
The judges ruled, however, that none of the security officers involved in the case could be criminally prosecuted.
The ruling was received with a fierce reaction from Human Rights Watch.
“The Thai government’s failure to bring justice to those responsible for Ashari Sama-ae torture and death is part of the broad pattern of abuse in which impunity is the norm,” Asia director Brad Adams said.
The southern insurgency is rooted in a century-old ethno-cultural conflict between the Malay Muslim living in the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and some districts of Songhkla and the Thai central state where Buddhism is de facto considered the national religion.