Thailand, Investigate Killing of Handcuffed Drug Suspect

Publication date: 01 July 2010

Press release

Thailand: Investigate Killing of Handcuffed Drug Suspect Recent Cases Raise Concerns of a Return to Thaksin’s Brutal ‘War on Drugs’

(New York, July 1, 2010) – Thai authorities should immediately investigate the shooting death of a suspected drug trafficker and murder suspect while he was handcuffed and in police custody, Human Rights Watch said today.

Manit Toommuang, alias Tong Donsai, was in the custody of police from Ratchaburi provincial command and the Bang Pae district station when they shot him on June 26, 2010. The police said they had arrested Manit and had taken him to his apartment in Potharam district to search for methamphetamine pills. The police claimed that while they were searching his room, the handcuffed Manit struggled, grabbed an 11 mm pistol from one officer, and fired one round, causing a policeman to shoot and kill Manit in self defense.

“The killing of a handcuffed criminal suspect in police custody requires a real investigation, not a hasty justification by the officers involved,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thai police will only make progress in combating Thailand’s surging drug problem if they themselves abide by the law instead of running roughshod over it.”

Police said Manit was listed among the most wanted criminals in Ratchaburi province, in Western Thailand. They said that on June 25, Manit rode his motorcycle through a police checkpoint in Bang Pae district. Police at the checkpoint opened fire and killed Manit’s girlfriend, Suwisa Upan, who was riding on the seat behind him. During his escape, Manit allegedly shot and killed police Sgt. Maj. Suvit Kwanmuang. Police captured him the next day.

Police said Manit was a member of a drug trafficking network headed by Wisan Sansoy, who was killed by police together with his wife, Wassana Chanhom, on June 4 when they allegedly tried to flee a police raid on his forest hideout in Pak Tho district. The police reported that members of this network have a history of killing and wounding many police officers.

International human rights law prohibits the ill-treatment of persons in custody. Thai police have a long history of using unlawful violence against criminal suspects in custody, particularly suspected drug traffickers and users. Human Rights Watch documented extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations in the context of Thaksin Shinawatra’s “war on drugs” in 2003 and 2004, when he was prime minister. Many of those killed had been blacklisted by police as suspected drug traffickers. Frequently, the victims were killed at police checkpoints or soon after being summoned to police stations for questioning, implicating the police in the killings.

Human Rights Watch’s findings were echoed by the 2007 Independent Committee for the Investigation, Study and Analysis of the Formation and Implementation of Drug Suppression Policy (ICID), chaired by former Attorney General Khanit na Nakhon. The committee concluded that the “war on drugs” was formulated and implemented by the Thaksin government without respect for human rights or due process of law. The committee found that 2,819 people had been killed during the three-month “war on drugs” between February and April 2003. Of those killed, 1,370 were related to drug dealing, while 878 were not. Another 571 people were killed without apparent reason. Human Rights Watch is unaware of any prosecutions of police officers for these killings.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced on June 9 that his government would renew the ICID and bring to justice those responsible for human rights violations in the context of Thaksin’s “war on drugs.” Human Rights Watch urged the committee to examine similar abuses by the security forces since that period.

“Thaksin’s ‘war on drugs’ was a brutal and dark period for human rights in Thailand,” Pearson said. “To ensure that the country does not go down that road again, Abhisit should immediately investigate allegations of police brutality in anti-drug operations and prosecute abusive officers.”

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