Police violence comes under official scrutiny
THE Thai police have mounted an investigation into violence within the force after the widely publicised beating of a pregnant woman and the mysterious death of a motorcycle taxi driver.
The latest incidents come at a time when the entire police force is under official scrutiny following the notorious police theft of a Saudi prince's family jewels.
A 36-year-old motorcycle taxi driver died in a Bangkok hospital three weeks ago only hours after allegedly being beaten by police - in front of a police station chief.
The police said the motorcyclist had earlier drawn a pistol to frighten off rival taxi drivers, one of whom was later shot and wounded.
The man's relatives say it is unclear what happened, but they claimed the police appeared to side with the dead man's rivals.
The man's five months pregnant widow has said the local police colonel threatened her during her husband's funeral, warning her to keep quiet about the beating.
In another incident, a 20-year-old pregnant woman who had stolen a projector lens was repeatedly beaten and as a result suffered a miscarriage while in police custody.
The woman's husband had originally been charged with stealing the lens from his company, but she confessed to the theft, saying she stole the lens because she was angry at her husband for leaving her home alone at night.
She was beaten for not confessing sooner and, she claimed, the police said they would drop the theft charge if she did not officially complain about her punishment.
Pornsak Pongpaew of Chulalongkorn University's political science faculty said 'police terrorism has become commonplace in Thai society'.
Most observers say the regulations governing police behaviour and operations are adequate but many officers still take the law into their own hands.
Last year the wife and young son of a key witness to the police theft of Saudi royal jewels were kidnapped and murdered. So far as one can tell in this Byzantine affair she was kidnapped to try to force her husband, a jeweller, to betray the police gang that stole the gems.
A law lecturer at Thammasat University, Worapoj Wisruttapit, said the incidents did not surprise him.
'A couple of years ago some provincial police officers wanted to interrogate a suspected thief so they simply kidnapped her two-year-old son and threatened to harm him unless she gave herself in,' he said.
'This sort of thing happens again and again.
'Sometimes it's a desperate desire to get promotion . . . which usually means access to the bigger bribes. Mostly it is just keeping up an ugly tradition.' Few people expect much from the latest inquiry into police violence - the standard punishment for a policeman who beats a man to death is either a pay cut or a transfer.