The military-established fact-finding committee has concluded that the death of 18-year-old cadet Phakhapong “Meay” Tanyakan was not caused by any punishment.
The committee, however, confirmed that Phakhapong was subject to inappropriate penalties at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School (AFAPS) during the 48 hours before his death on October 17.
Phakhapong’s family said the probe results did not provide any new insights. Civil-society group Cross-Cultural Foundation said the committee’s work suggested continuing efforts to protect members of military-linked units.
Phakhapong’s elder sister Supicha Tanyakan yesterday vowed to continue fighting for justice over her sibling’s untimely death.
She spoke up after the fact-finding committee held a press conference on Phakhapong’s case. “We do not believe that the penalties could have caused the death,” committee chair ACM Chawarat Marungruang said.
Supreme Commander General Thanchaiyan Srisuwan set up the committee last month, after Phakhapong’s family publicly raised doubts about his untimely death.
According to the family, Phakhapong almost died on August 23 because of punishment meted out by senior students at the AFAPS. There are thus grounds to suspect that Phakhapong’s death was related to inappropriate penalties such as headstands and more, they said.
While the Chawarat-headed committee invited Phakhapong’s family to a meeting next Monday to explain the results of his committee’s probe, Supicha separately said her family would have to go to a police station that day and would need to postpone the meeting with the committee.
At yesterday’s press conference, Chawarat said that Phakhapong had shown signs of hyperventilation and stress. Some of his cardiac muscle cells also had an abnormal size – something not usually found among teenagers.
He added that an autopsy by the Institute of Pathology at the military-installed Phramongkutklao Hospital had identified acute cardiac arrest as the cause of Phakhapong’s death.
Regarding damage to Phakhapong’s rib, Chawarat said it was possible that four hours of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) – done in the hope of reviving the cadet – might have broken his fourth rib.
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Chawarat said his committee had interviewed 42 people before reaching its conclusions.
They included 22 AFAPS students, three medics, four administrative military officers at the AFAPS, Phakhapong’s homeroom teacher, and two physical-education teachers at the preparatory school.
The rest were ambulance drivers and some other school officials.
Chawarat emphasised that the four senior students who had ordered inappropriate punishment had already been punished themselves – losing good behaviour points and their status as commanding students. He said the removal of such a status was a big dishonour to AFAPS students.
Cross-Cultural Foundation director Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, said the committee’s conclusions reflected a tendency in the military to protect its own people and was a problem plaguing the entire military institution in Thailand.
“From the press conference of the military today, we can see that they are trying to help cover up the crime of some person in their institute. It reflects the bigger problem of the military – their culture emphasises protecting their own,” Pornpen said.
“It is normal for every organisation to have someone committing a crime. However, it is abnormal if the organisation tries to cover up the crime for these wrongdoers, which is an abuse of power.”
She urged the military to instead promote transparency in every case involving military officers.
Regarding Phakhapong’s death, she said the military should stop influencing the case and let the justice system work independently. She also said it was questionable to allow the military to investigate itself, which creates an inherent conflict of interest in the investigation. A neutral organisation should be investigating the death.
It has been reported that in the past decade, only two of at least nine known cases of soldiers who had died while in a military facility had gone through the courts. The two suspects, Private Yutkinan Boonniam and Corporal Kittikorn Suthiraphan, were found guilty.
STORY: The Nation
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