Former officials to face charges for 2004 Tak Bai massacre

Photo courtesy of Bangkok Post

Criminal charges are set to be filed against nine former security officials involved in the 2004 Tak Bai massacre.

Lawyers representing the victims’ families are spearheading this legal action. This move comes months before the expiration of the 20-year statute of limitations on the case, which is due to conclude in October this year. The charges will be filed at the Narathiwat Provincial Court, with the accused facing allegations of unlawful detention, murder and malfeasance.

Adilan Ali-Ishoh, a lawyer from the Muslim Attorney Centre Foundation, revealed that all victims’ families had signed an agreement permitting the foundation to represent them in the legal battle against the authorities. Those facing charges include top southern army officers who were in charge of the crackdown plan and operations, along with key police and Interior Ministry officers.

The infamous Tak Bai incident involved 1,500 protesters rallying in front of the local police station in Narathiwat, demanding the release of six detainees on October 25, 2004. A brutal response from security authorities led to the deaths of seven people at the protest site. An additional 78 individuals died from suffocation or being crushed during transportation to the Ingkhayutthaborihan army camp in the Nong Chik district of Pattani province, 140 kilometres away.

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The massacre, which occurred under the prime ministership of Thaksin Shinawatra, is widely regarded as a key factor sparking heightened violence in the three Muslim-majority southern border provinces. Thaksin apologised for the tragedy in 2022, stating he was not informed at the time that the army had taken control of the protest. The army chief at that time, General Prawit Wongsuwon, later became deputy premier in the previous government and currently heads the coalition Palang Pracharath Party.

Adilan Ali-Ishoh acknowledged that the forthcoming legal battle would not be an easy one but pledged to fight for justice on behalf of the victims and their families.

“I would like to thank all the people who continue to fight alongside us for justice. The road ahead will not be smooth but they stand ready for that.”

Independent investigation

Ali-Ishoh also expressed gratitude to the lawyers and volunteers who sifted through vast amounts of evidence to assemble the case.

The lawyer revealed to the Bangkok Post that the results of an independent investigation led by then-ombudsman Pichet Sunthornpipit would be crucial evidence to support the accusations against the nine accused.

The report, initiated by former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra to scrutinise the massacre, cited then-Fourth Army Region Commander Lieutenant General Pisan Wattanawongkiri, his deputy Lieutenant General Sinchai Nutsathit, and then-Fifth Infantry Division Commander Major General Chalermchai Wirunpeth for dereliction of duty during the rally.

Human rights advocates have been demanding justice for the victims and their families. While some victims and family members received financial compensation from the government, Amnesty International has criticised the lack of comprehensive reparations for the human rights violations committed by the officers involved, reported Bangkok Post.

The organisation noted last year on the 19th anniversary of the crackdown that the government had focused solely on financial compensation, neglecting to provide victims and their families with access to justice.

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Puntid Tantivangphaisal

Originally from Hong Kong, Puntid moved to Bangkok in 2020 to pursue further studies in translation. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong. Puntid spent 8 years living in Manchester, UK. Before joining The Thaiger, Puntid has been a freelance translator for 2 years. In her free time, she enjoys swimming and listening to music, as well as writing short fiction and poetry.

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