Angkhana Neelaphaijit

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Angkhana Neelaphaijit
Angkana Neelapaijit.jpg
Nationality Thai
Occupation Human rights activist
Organization Working Group for Justice and Peace
Spouse(s) Somchai Neelaphaijit (disappeared 24 March 2004)
Awards Gwangju Prize for Human Rights (2006)

Angkhana Neelaphaijit (Thai: อังคณา นีละไพจิตร) is a Thai human rights activist and the wife of disappeared human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit.[1] Amnesty International described her as "a leading human rights defender in Southern Thailand".[1]

Husband's disappearance[edit]

In the early 2000s, Southern Thailand suffered a wave of unrest, including an ethnic separatist insurgency. In 2003, four Thai Muslims--Waemahadi Wae-dao, a doctor; Maisuru Haji Abdulloh, a school owner; his son, Muyahid; and a manual labourer, Samarn Wae-kaji--were arrested and charged with planning bombings for the militant Islamic organization Jemaah Islamiyah.[2] Angkhana's husband Somchai was responsible for their defense, and accused state security forces of having abused and tortured the men in custody. According to Angkhana, he subsequently reported harassment and threats by police.[3] On 24 March 2004, a group of men seized Somchai as he left a hotel in a Bangkok suburb, forcing him into a vehicle; his current whereabouts are unknown.[4]

Investigation and trial[edit]

Angkhana pursued a court case against the officers she alleged to responsible for her husband's disappearance, but was frustrated at what she perceived to be a government cover-up.[4] Police officials refused to share relevant records with her, citing national security, leading the New York Times to describe the truth as "hidden behind a wall of official obscurity."[4] Angkhana also reported a police harassment and anonymous threats, recalling those allegedly sent to her husband before his disappearance.[4] She eventually filed a complaint with the United Nations, in which she stated, "We do not see any genuine goodwill from the authorities."[4]

In 2006, Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra stated that Somchai Neelaphaijit was dead and may have been killed by state security forces.[5] On 12 January 2006, one policeman was jailed for having "illegally detained" Somchai, but four others were acquitted.[5] Angkhana and several international human rights groups "denounced the verdict."[5]

On 2 August 2009, bone fragments were located in the Mae Klong river believed to belong to Somchai.[6] In September 2010, more than six years after her husband's disappearance, Angkhana told reporters, "I haven't given up my attempts to call for justice for my husband... No matter which party controls the government, I ask it to help investigate the case."[7]

On 17 March 2011, after several delays, a Thai appeals court acquitted Ngern Thongsuk, the only convicted defendant in the case, saying that it had not been conclusively determined whether Somchai had died.[8] Following the verdict, Angkhana told reporters she "would continue to fight for justice and take the case to the Supreme Court."[8] The Asian Human Rights Commission condemned the verdict and renewed calls for police to investigate continued threats against Angkhana and her family.[9]

Ongoing work and recognition[edit]

Angkhana currently serves as the chairwoman of the Working Group for Justice and Peace, and continues to investigate allegations of police abuse in Southern Thailand.[10] Amnesty International and Front Line report that her safety continues to be threatened,[1][11] and in 2009, her car was robbed of documents relating to one of her cases.[12]

In 2006, Angkhana, along with Malalai Joya of Afghanistan, won the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, which honors "individuals, groups or institutions in Korea and abroad that have contributed in promoting and advancing human rights, democracy and peace through their work".[13] The award cited her "unrelenting" efforts for justice and "unsparing" criticism of government authorities.[14] On 11 March of the same year, she received the Asian Human Rights Defender Award of the Asian Human Rights Commission on her husband's behalf; the award's press release also praised her "role as an articulate and courageous spokesperson for the families of disappeared persons in Thailand".[15]

In 2011, Josefina Bergsten's documentary "UNJUST", which prominently features Angkhana's story, was given a Special Jury Award at the Hague's Movies that Matter Festival.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "UA 54/08 Fear for safety". Amnesty International. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  2. ^ "Thailand terror case collapses". BBC News. 1 June 2005. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  3. ^ "Missing Thai lawyer 'harassed'". BBC News. 9 August 2005. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Nick Cumming-Bruce (22 April 2005). "Letter From Bangkok: Thai leader's promise on rights unfulfilled". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c "Missing Thai lawyer 'harassed'". BBC News. 13 January 2006. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  6. ^ "BID TO FIND NEW EVIDENCE TO CONFIRM DEATH OF MISSING HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER". Bangkok Post. 6 January 2009. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  7. ^ "Justice denied". Bangkok Post. 1 September 2010. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "Policeman acquitted in Somchai case". Bangkok Post. 12 March 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  9. ^ "THAILAND: Verdict on Somchai's case--his wife, daughter could not be plaintiffs; not enough evidence to convict accused". Asian Human Rights Commission. 17 March 2011. Archived from the original on 8 April 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  10. ^ "Activist seeks justice for Tak Bai victims". Bangkok Post. 6 January 2009. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  11. ^ "Thailand: Intimidation of human rights defender Ms Angkhana Neelaphaijit". Front Line. 15 June 2009. Archived from the original on 3 June 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  12. ^ "Robber steals documents from Angkhana". Bangkok Post. 6 December 2010. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  13. ^ "Gwangju Prize for Human Rights". May 18 Memorial Foundation. Archived from the original on 3 June 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  14. ^ Marj Ibanez (28 April 2006). "WOMEN ACTIVISTS RECEIVE 2006 GWANGJU PRIZE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD". 518 Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  15. ^ "Somchai Neelaphaijit honoured with 2nd Asian Human Rights Defender Award of the Asian Human Rights Commission". Asian Human Rights Commission. 11 March 2006. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  16. ^ "ASIA: Three women rights defenders receive prestigious international award for documentary". Asian Human Rights Commission. 11 April 2011. Archived from the original on 2 June 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2011.