Thai civil rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaichit presumed dead

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Prominent Thai civil rights lawyer, Somchai Neelapaichit, is now presumed dead, according to an admission by the country's Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Somchai rose to prominence as a lawyer defending Muslim people accused of involvement in the troubles in the predominantly Muslim provinces of southern Thailand. According to the information provided by the PM, evidence has been provided to the Department of Special Investigations that leads them to believe the lawyer is now dead. This is not considered news by the journalist's family, according to his wife the country's Prime Minister admitted to her last year that her husband was dead, and gave assurances that action would be taken against those responsible.

Thailand's DSI became involved with the disappearance of Somchai in July 2005 when allegations were made that police were involved with the lawyer vanishing. His involvement in cases related to the southern insurgency was suspected to have been behind his disappearance. Somchai had lodged appeals with the Bangkok Criminal Court on behalf of five suspects accused of being involved in a raid on a Narathiwat armoury where weapons were seized and soldiers killed, alleging that they had not been given fair treatment during their prosecution.

The admission follows on from the conviction of Police Major, Nguen Thongsuk, who was prosecuted for illegally detaining the lawyer in 2004. Following that he was last seen in public in March 2004. In the case against the police four other officers were acquitted.

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