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Disappearance of Thai Lawyer still not Solved

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Download A Thai court has acquitted the last policeman accused of involvement in the disappearance of a leading Muslim human rights lawyer.

Somchai Neelapaichit disappeared in 2004.

The family says it will take the case to the Supreme Court.

Ron Corben in Bangkok has the details.

When Somchai Neelapaichit made his last public address in early 2004 he accused Thai security forces of using torture to extract confessions from prisoners.

He said he was willing to surrender his life in the defence of human rights.

“From that speech it’s quite clear that Khun Somchai understood very well the risks that he was dealing with.”

Roger Normand is Asia Pacific director for the International Commission for Jurists or ICJ.

A few days after this speech eye witnesses say he was abducted by five men and bundled into a car.

It was the last time he was seen.

“Personally it is highly likely that security forces and the police were involved – yes we know that. I make that statement as a statement of opinion based on the evidence I have seen.”

Five officers were arrested over the kidnapping.

Only one was found guilty of abduction and sentenced to three years jail.

He was released on bail but then disappeared.

His family says he drowned.

A recent appeals court verdict cleared the officer of the charges.

Somchai’s wife, Angkhana Neelapaichit, has been fighting for seven years for justice.

“Somchai Neelapaichit’s case is not an ordinary criminal case but it looks like a political case. It involves many of the high police that are working and have a high position under the Royal Thai Police – that is my concern.”

She has made regular appeals to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for support.

In 2009 she raised the issue with him during an official dinner.

“Mr. Prime Minister, ka, I have a question. I have been waiting for justice for five years and my question is... will you move to allow the investigation into Somchai Neelapaichit’s disappearance to go forward and bring the perpetrators to justice? Thank you Prime Minister.”

“Yes, I’ll do my very best. I believe that there’s a good chance that there will be progress in terms of the investigations."

This week Mr.Abhisit again attended the foreign correspondents dinner in his honour. I reminded him of the comments he had made two years ago.

“At the time – if you recall - there were hopes that maybe some remains of his body were found in certain provinces. Unfortunately after testing of DNA it proved not to be. And that has made it very difficult to make more progress. We were hopeful, genuinely hopeful then that we would make progress from that situation. I’ve spoken to Khun Angkhana and she has told me about the problems she faces. And I can assure that I do take her complaints and case seriously.”

Q. There's nothing else you can do at this point in time?

"We're still asking the police and all the agencies to continue. And I'm in constant touch with Khun Angkhana to let her know of any progress and she would let me know of any problems she was facing. We still have every intention to pursue the case.”  

But Mrs Angkhana is not convinced.

“The Prime Minister always said he’s very concerned about this case and other case of human rights abuse....but the outcome is another thing. So I don’t know that the government – especially the Prime Minister or the Minister of Justice or the DSI think that the case of Somchai is a serious case or not. As I used to say it seems that the state officer cannot do wrong – maybe he’s sure that all the mechanisms in Thailand – especially for the Justice system protect the officer although they are the perpetrators.”

Mrs. Angkhana is now active in monitoring human rights in Southern Thailand where the military is trying to quell a Muslim insurgency seeking greater autonomy for the region.

Now there are threats against her life and she has been given a body guard from the Department of Special Investigations or DSI.

International jurist Norman says the Somchai case is a test for the government.

“These cases – they symbolise the fact that this can happen to someone like Somchai, it can happen to anyone in the legal community who defends unpopular causes. And if it’s not possible to get justice in the Thai legal system and people look at this case, is it possible? Then you ask yourself is it possible in cases that don’t have political pressure and profile?”

Somchai’s daughter has inherited her father’s battle for justice.

Pratubjit Neelapaichit is a now a lawyer and a project manager with the Justice for Peace Foundation.

“I feel a bit tired but in my experience after my father’s disappearance I learned a lot from the experiences of other countries, family in other countries of the disappeared. I found that all of them spend a very long time. So cases 50 years or 70 years to fight for justice. I still am patient and I hope that one day we can celebrate some truth and justice in our country like other countries.”



1) bundled: dibundel

2) abduction: penculikan

3) perpetrators: pelaku

4) Supreme Court: Mahkamah Agung

5) appeals court verdict: putusan pengadilan tingkat banding

6) genuinely: dengan sungguh-sungguh

7) pursue: mengejar

8) quell: menumpas, mengatasi

9) insurgency: pemberontakan

10) sentenced: dihukum


1) Who is Somchai Neelapaichit and what happened to him?

2) What is his wife trying to do about it?

3) What did the prime minister say about the case?

4) Why is Mrs. Angkhana not convinced about the prime minister's statement?

5) Who has inherited their father's the battle for justice  and what did she say about him?

Last Updated ( Monday, 28 March 2011 16:59 )