The trial comes as a new law, strengthening legal protections against torture and human rights abuses against people held in custody with more transparency provisions, makes its way through Thailand’s parliament. The case of the suffocation of 24-year-old drug-dealing suspect, Jeerapong Thanapat, shocked Thailand to the core last August when a video clip emerged showing the police chief in Nakhon Sawan, currently facing trial on a capital murder charge, placed plastic bags over the victim’s head and fastened them while other police officers looked on at the main police station in the city.
A human rights activist has expressed unease at comments reportedly made by a lawyer for former police officer Colonel Thitisan Utthanaphon at his trial at the Criminal Court in Bangkok which began last weekend and is due to resume at the end of this week, suggesting that the alleged murder of a detainee, a suspected drug dealer, in detention last August in Nakhon Sawan was a matter related simply to the application of excessive physical violence. The lawyer also took exception to third parties monitoring the trial suggesting that there was a danger that evidence presented at the proceedings may serve to blacken the reputation of the police force.
This week, it has emerged that a lawyer for Colonel Thitisan, also known in Thailand as ‘Ferrari Joe’, is asking the court to deny access to proceedings to human rights observers and activists who are anxious to hear details of the case and evidence linked with the alleged murder of a 24-year old drug-dealing suspect last August.
It is understood that on Saturday last, a legal representative for the former police officer insisted that the criminal charges before the court amounted to, in effect, one of physical assault.
Lawyer in court appeared to solicit an order barring unrelated observers from attending the proceedings
It is understood that Ferrari Joe’s lawyer in court made reference to the presence of ‘unrelated individuals’ attending the proceedings and warned that this could result in the trial process being used to besmirch the reputation of the Royal Thai Police.
On Monday, the director of the Cross Cultural Centre, a body established in Thailand in 2002 and which works towards an improvement in human rights and judicial reform in the kingdom, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, said that her organisation had requested access to the trial four times and it was not forthcoming.
She said another request was lodged last Saturday
New draft law on torture and abuse of suspects in custody is making its way into law after being passed last September by the House of Representatives
Ms Pornpen’s organisation, based in Huaykhwang, Bangkok, was involved in recent efforts within the House of Representatives to draft the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act.
This draft law was approved in its first stage reading in September 2021 and is expected to be finalised by the Thai parliament later this year provided it is not jettisoned by rising political instability within the coalition government which has emerged since February.
Government is in its death throes as divisions multiply with July likely to be a decisive month for the country
There is increasingly very real concern that the bill will be stalled or will ultimately not be implemented by the executive and the Ministry of Justice.
New law will deal with forced disappearances
Although criticised by some human rights proponents because it is not comprehensive enough nor more radical, the legal provision would improve human rights in Thailand by strengthening the rights of prisoners held by authorities including a strict duty to report such detentions.
The law, in a first, makes the enforced disappearance of any individual a continuous crime meaning prosecution can be instigated against offending parties where someone goes missing even if their whereabouts are not unearthed or are still unknown.
30-year-old former high flying and unusually wealthy police officer is facing a capital murder charge
The trial of the former police chief in Nakhon Sawan City, Police Colonel Thitisan Utthanaphon or ‘Ferrari Joe’ began last weekend at the Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases in Bangkok and will continue next weekend.
The 30-year-old former high flyer within the Royal Thai Police is facing a capital murder charge for torturing a drug suspect to death last August after the man’s arrest with his wife while in possession of illegal narcotics.
Police chief to expedite the removal of ‘Ferrari Joe’ as capital murder charges are due to be filed in court
Six other officers are also facing the same charges before the court which could, in theory, see the death penalty imposed.
Shocking incident on August 5th last when a 24-year-old drug dealer was suffocated to death while in police custody after being arrested with his wife
The incident at the centre of the case occurred on August 5th last when 24-year-old Jeerapong Thanapat, reported as being a small-time drug dealer, expired after having several plastic bags fastened over his head in an investigation room at Nakhon Sawan Police Station by Police Colonel Thitisan with other officers present.
Some reports suggested that the commanding police officer was trying to extort ฿2 million from the man although this has been vigorously denied by Police Colonel Thitisan who said he only sought intelligence with which to combat drug trafficking in his area and protect the population from the menace.
Stunned and nervous junior police officers are reported to have recorded the incident on video and revealed it within days to several prominent lawyer activists who began enquiries which led to the outrage being aired publicly including the surreptitious and devastating video clip.
The victim’s wife was also in police custody at the station while her husband was tortured to death.
Palpable anger, revulsion and debate after the killing forced police top brass into action leading to the arrest of ‘Ferrari Joe’ days after he ran away
The killing of the young man sparked palpable anger and revulsion amongst the population across Thailand at the brutality used on the suspect while some, smaller body of opinion held that such tactics could be justified against drug dealers and other lawbreakers.
Indeed in the days after the arrest of the former Nakhon Sawan police chief and his questioning by investigators in Nakhon Sawan, a respected monk in the region came out to offer him moral and indirect support.
Phra Suthiwachiraporn of Wat Phatthasittharam in Nakhon Sawan explained to the public that there is good and evil in all men.
He suggested that the former police chief could be viewed as a ‘peacekeeper’ for his work to prevent drug proliferation.
Video of the atrocity impossible to ignore
However, the video of the atrocity was seen as an example of casual and unacceptable brutality by a serving police officer and a severe breach of human rights by senior officers with the Royal Thai Police who pressed charges against not only the police chief but all those who played a part in the death of the victim.
Colonel Thitisan surrendered himself on August 26th last after initially going on the run after he appeared to have made attempts to cover up the death including getting the father of the victim, Navin Thanapat, to agree to cremate the body which ultimately proved futile when the truth emerged and several high-level investigations were launched.
Autopsy confirmed the victim Jeerapong Thanapat died from suffocation or lack of oxygen not drugs
An official autopsy into the death of Mr Jeerapong later appeared to reverse a preliminary medical conclusion linking his death to a possible drugs overdose.
A second autopsy into his death found conclusively that the victim died from a lack of oxygen or suffocation and that although there were traces of drugs in his system and bloodstream, narcotics were not a factor in his death.
It later emerged that Colonel Thitisan had managed to amass extraordinary wealth, reported as amounting to ฿600 million. This was achieved through his deep involvement in an internal government programme for police and officials linked with the detection and seizure of illegally imported luxury cars.
His nickname Ferrari Joe was linked to his red Ferrari car, only one among a collection of expensive cars owned by the policeman including a ฿20 million Lamborghini car, all on a monthly salary of ฿40,000 per month.