For immediate release on 15 October 2014
Violation of the rights of the victims and alleged offenders must be stopped:
The performance of the officials and media in Koh Tao murder case
On 15 September 2014, two tourists from UK were murdered and their bodies were left on the beach of Koh Tao, Surathani, Southern Thailand. Later on 2 October 2014, police officials claimed three suspects who are migrant workers from Myanmar have confessed to the charges and on 3 October, two of them were brought to the crime scene for reenactment and an ensuing press conference was widely reported in the media.
Since the investigation is still ongoing, the alleged offenders must enjoy the right to presumed innocence until a final verdict is made against them. It is prohibited to treat them as if they are already the perpetrators. Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) and other signatories would like to express our deepest concern about the practice of the concerned officials and media which would be tantamount to a violation of the right to privacy of the victims’ families and the rights of alleged offenders as follows;
1. In a case where death sentence is mandatory, if an alleged offender does not have his lawyer, it is required that the inquiry official must provide him a legal representative as per Article 134/1 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Should the official fail to provide a legal counsel, any evidence given by the alleged offender would not be admissible.
2. If the confession given to the official has been obtained when the alleged offender is put under duress or being threatened, such a statement shall not be admissible. The officials who have committed such an intimidating act will also face a legal action since the act can be construed as a breach of an obligation as per the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).
3. The reenactment of the crime at the crime scene, even though it was done so as part of the gathering of evidence by the inquiry officials, but it should be carried out solely just to serve the said purpose, but not to be part of a press conference. Even though the case has attracted avid attention from the public, the authorities are required to respect the right to privacy and the right to freedom and dignity of the alleged offenders. In addition, according to the Royal Thai Police order no. 855/2548, it clearly stipulates that no media would be allowed to be present during the enactment of the crime and no interviews or interaction between the inquiry officials and the alleged offenders or other parties can be given or made in the presence of the media, since their reports might have tampered with the investigation.
4. There was a massive and extensive dissemination of images and information about the crime scene reenactment and the interviews with state officials and other persons concerned or not with the case via the media. Several news agencies featured quite graphic images or facts about the event. The redistribution of information and images of the victims by the media simply give reminiscence to the horrible incidence and would only further traumatize families of the victims. It would also infringe on the dignity of the alleged offenders and might tamper with the investigation. Breaches that happened include for example an interview to the press by the interpreter regarding the statements given by the alleged offenders to the officials, even though such revelation was a breach of the code of ethics of an interpreter, or an interview given by a National Human Rights Commissioner who was supposed to be there simply to monitor if any rights violation has taken place or not, but not to give an interview to affirm incriminating evidence against the alleged offenders.
The Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) and other signatories have the following demands to make;
1. Any interviews by persons concerned and not with the case in future must be carried out with consideration of their respective roles and the code of ethics regarding confidentiality which must be observed during the investigation process and dignity and reputation of the victims must be respected.
2. In the reportage by media, caution must be made to ensure respect of the right to privacy and to mitigate any further damage to the reputation of the victims and alleged offenders. It should always be borne in mind that any media report might induce the audience to prejudge a person as a perpetrator. But if it is proven later that that person is not guilty, any remedies would not suffice the damage already done to the person. Media professionals, in particular, are urged to seriously monitor their own work.
With respect for the rights and freedom of the people
Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA)
Union for Civil Liberties (UCL)