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Thai junta torture allegations raise int'l concerns

The Thai junta is being asked to investigate allegations it tortured a former political detainee after a 27-year-old activist claimed she was beaten and suffocated while being interrogated by military officers after being called in for questioning following the May 22 coup. Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on the country's authorities to "immediately and impartially" look into Kritsuda Khunasen's allegations of torture, made after she was secretly detained without charge at an unidentified military camp. The military has denied the allegations, saying they are "groundless and without supporting evidence." The Red shirt activist -- who has since fled overseas -- was detained incommunicado from May 27 until June 24, when the junta released her following domestic and international pressure. The Red shirts are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, now in exile, and opponents of the military and bureaucratic establishment.

Khunasen made the allegations during a Skype interview with an independent Thai journalist on August 2. She claimed she was beaten and suffocated while being interrogated, and was kept blindfolded during the whole procedure. 

"When they started to question me, I was slapped in the face… After that, when I could not give them the information they wanted, they slapped me and punched me," she said.

She also alleged that the soldiers put a plastic bag, tied by a piece of cloth, over her head. 

"I felt as if I was dead before they let me breathe again. They did that to me again and again until I passed out," she said. 

Khunasen also said that after being stripped naked by a female soldier to shower, she heard male voices around her.

Reacting to the interview, junta spokesman Colonel Winthai Suwaree denied Sunday that any violence was committed against Khunasen. 

"She was not mistreated while in custody. We have always treated all detainees by respecting human rights and with politeness," he said.

During his weekly TV talk on July 25, junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha attempted to assure: "the National Council for Peace and Order [the Junta's governing name] has never committed serious human rights violations," he said. "We have no policy to assault, kill, torture, rape or harm anyone."

In a statement calling for an investigation, Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, which led a campaign to obtain Khunasen’s release in June, called the alleged torture a "further cause for alarm that rights protections are not on the military’s agenda." 

"Will the junta respond with a serious investigation or will there be more cover-ups?" he asked. "This is a test case for the junta's commitment to respect human rights."

The human rights organization International Commission of Jurists also released a statement Monday calling for a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the allegations.

Since the May 22 coup, around 300 politicians, activists, journalists and academics have been summoned and detained by the military for "attitude adjustment" purposes. 

All of them -- bar Khunasen -- were released within seven days of their arrest (the administrative limit of detention under martial law, currently in place across the country).

Human Rights Watch affirmed Tuesday that arbitrary arrests and the detention of those criticizing the junta continue.

Khunasen said in her interview with the Thai journalist Saturday that at the end of the first week of detention she was ordered to sign a document saying she wanted to extend her military custody.

She has been reported to be currently staying at an unknown location outside of the Kingdom.

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