A popular shaman and a lawyer have asked Crime Suppression Di-vision (CSD) police to take action against a drug rehabilitation centre at a temple in Kanchanaburi for alleged torture and other human rights abuses.
Jeeraphan Phetkhao, known as Mor Pla (Shaman Pla), and lawyer Paisarn Ruangrit led 10 representatives of more than 200 men freed by soldiers from Wat Tha Phu Rat Bamrung’s drug rehabilitation facility in Dan Makhamtia district, to file a complaint with Pol Lt Col Phanuwat Chantrakul, investigation chief at CSD sub-division 5.
Soldiers entered the rehab centre on Monday. They found the men crammed into a single room in the temple grounds. The men had been sent to the drug rehabilitation centre for treatment, some by their parents and others by police.
A total of 216 men were freed by soldiers and taken by trucks to a field hospital at the army’s Khao Chon Kai training camp in Muang district on Monday night.
Mr Phetkhao said the living conditions at the facility were atrocious. It was more like hell on earth than a drug rehabilitation centre. The shaman and the lawyer also took reporters to inspect the facility on Monday.
Kanchanaburi governor Jeerakiart Phumsawat arrived at the temple after Mr Phetkhao phoned him to report on the conditions there.
Mr Phetkhao said he had earlier filed a report at Dan Makhamtia police station, but officers there didn’t seem interested.
He felt “unsafe”, and decided to ask the CSD for help, he said.
The rescue operation was streamed live on Mr Phetkhao’s Facebook page, and drew a shocked response.
It showed hundreds of addicts living in extremely poor, crowded conditions inside a locked room with only two bathrooms.
The media reported the addicts were there both voluntarily and as a condition of their release by police.
Some also had been committed by their family, while others were offered rehab at the temple in exchange for a clean criminal record.
All had to pay 12,000 baht each once they agreed to treatment, and an additional 2,000 baht a month for food.
The treatment came under a 12-month contract. Another 10,000 baht was demanded for early release or breach of contract.
“In my view, there is an organised gang involving police, temple and rescue workers,” Mr Phetkhao said.
“It’s unusual that police from Kalasin and Roi Et provinces took so many people involved in illicit drugs to this temple for rehabilitation. From some villages, 10 or more people were sent there.
“I do hope national police chief Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk will watch TV news coverage of this facility and investigate it. If any bad fingers are found, will he [the police chief] cut them off? If not, he will cut his own fingers, won’t he?” the shaman said.
Mr Ruangrit echoed the shaman’s remark about an organised gang operating at the centre.
The lawyer said what he witnessed was little different from human trafficking, starting with procuring people, sending them to the facility, demanding money, and torturing and beating them.
Two or three people had reportedly died while “in treatment”, and no autopsies were performed, Mr Ruangrit said.
Some of the people sent here were not drug addicts but people charged with other offences such as brawling and physical assault. They were taken there by police who told the offenders’ parents that charges would be dropped if they entered treatment for a year at the rehab centre. The parents had to pay the fees, Mr Ruangrit said.
One of those rescued said he was delighted to be out of the place. He had been in “rehabilitation” at the temple for nine months. Before being sent there he was given a lung X-ray. There were no blood tests for drug use, he said. The man’s name was withheld.
He said life at the rehab centre was like being in jail.
He was given one meal a day and had to get up at 3.45am to pray. If his prayers were not loud enough, or he failed to satisfy those in charge in some other way, they would refuse him his food.
He said he was given only one meal a day even though his parents sent money to the temple every month for his rations.