Thai activists charged over 'military torture' report

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image captionThai soldiers and police have long been accused of abuses in the restive south

Three Thai human rights activists have been charged with criminal defamation over a report alleging torture by soldiers in southern Thailand.

Allegations of military abuses in the south, home to a longstanding Muslim insurgency are nothing new.

But there has been a sharp increase in the use of criminal defamation laws against government critics in recent years, BBC correspondent Jonathan Head says.

Rights groups condemned the charges.

The trio face up to two years in prison if found guilty of defaming the military, and a further three years if they are found to have violated the country's computer crimes act.

Why have they been charged?

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Anchana Heemmina and Somchai Homlaor published a lengthy report in February based on accounts from 54 people who had allegedly been tortured while in military detention.

The torture methods alleged included sensory deprivation, physical violence, threats at gunpoint and "partial suffocation".

Army officers, who denied the claims were true, had demanded the report's sources be named.

The researchers refused, citing safety concerns.

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image captionThe insurgency in Thailand's south is South East Asia's longest running war

Amnesty International secretary general Salil Shetty said the charges made a mockery of the Thai government's pledge to introduce anti-torture legislation.

"It is a cruel paradox that they are harassing activists for exposing the abhorrent practice," he said in a statement.

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet serves as the chairperson of Amnesty International in Thailand.

Last year, a court acquitted a Thai and an Australian journalist of similar charges after they had reprinted a news report alleging complicity between the Thai military and human traffickers.

More than 6,500 people have been killed in the southern insurgency since 2004, with bombings, beheadings, shootings and assassinations common.

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