03/13/2009, 00.00
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Mystery of Thai Muslim activist, missing for five years

by Weena Kowitwanij
By law, Somchai Neelaphaijit is to be considered dead. Political circles and the security forces are suspected of his kidnapping, but the details of the situation remain obscure. The president of the AHRC emphasizes that "there is a clear link between the disappearance of Mr. Somchai and government officials."

Bangkok (AsiaNews) -According to Thai law, Somchai Neelaphaijit is officially dead. Five years have passed since his disappearance; there has been no news of him since March 12, 2004. But the events leading up to the disappearance of the Muslim lawyer - famous for his battles in favor of human rights - remain shrouded in mystery. They involve "political circles" and the "security forces" of the country.

Somchai Neelaphaijit was last seen on the streets in downtown Bangkok, on the evening of March 12, 2004. At the time, he was defending five men who had accused the police of torture, and a university student accused of drug possession. At 8:30 p.m., he was taken by five people, possibly plainclothes police officers; his car was found a month later in the parking area of the Public Transport Station.

After he went missing, the prime minister at the time, Thaksin Shinawatra, said that this was not a case of " disappearance," saying that the activist had "family problems" and "did not want to be contacted by anyone." Two years later, Thaksin publicly stated that "eyewitnesses confirmed Somchai's death," and admitted the involvement of "government officials."

Angkana Neelaphaijit, Somchai's wife, had asked Prime Minister Thaksin for "justice and transparent investigations." "This is not a question of [the fate of] a poor lawyer," she said, "but of human rights. I want nothing other than justice for my husband."

Basil Fernando, president of the Asia Human Rights Commission (AHRC), stresses that "there is a clear link between the disappearance of Mr. Somchai and government officials. The Thai government should be held responsible if he is dead."

Somchai Neelaphaijit, born on May 13, 1951, received a law degree at the University of Rajkhamkaeng, and a master's at Punjab University in Pakistan. For more than 20 years, he defended the rights of Muslims in southern Thailand, the theater of a violent conflict between the government army and rebel factions. His cases included the murder of an envoy from Saudi Arabia, and the attacks in September of 2006 in Had-Yai, in the south of the country, in which six people were killed and another 60 were injured. On February 20, 2006, the AHRC awarded the activist a prize in absentia for his battle in favor of human rights.

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