Temple drug rehab center accused of torture

More than 200 men are seen crammed into a single locked room with only two bathrooms at the Wat Tha Phut Rat Bamrung drug rehabilitation center in the Dan Makhamtia district of Kanchanaburi. They are waiting for army trucks to take them to Khao Chon Kai training camp in Muang district. (Capture of the video on Mor Pla Chuay Duai’s Facebook page)

A popular shaman and a lawyer on Wednesday called on police from the Crime Suppression Division to take action against a drug rehab center in a Kanchanaburi temple for allegations of torture and other human rights violations.

Jeeraphan Phetkhao, known as Mor Pla (Shaman Pla), and lawyer Paisarn Ruangrit led 10 representatives of over 200 men released by soldiers from the Wat Tha Phu Rat Bamrung drug rehabilitation center in Dan Makhamtia district , to lodge a complaint with Lieutenant-Colonel Pol Phanuwat Chantrakul, head of investigation at sub-division 5 of the CSD.

The soldiers entered the rehabilitation center on Monday. They found the men crammed into one room within the temple grounds.

The men had been sent to the drug rehab center for treatment, some by their parents and others by the police.

A total of 216 men were released by soldiers and taken by truck to a field hospital in the Khao Chon Kai army training camp in Muang district of Kanchanaburi on Monday evening.

Mr. Jeeraphan said the living conditions in the temple facilities were atrocious. It looked more like Hell on Earth than a drug rehab center.

The shaman and the lawyer also took reporters to inspect the facility on Monday.

The governor of Kanchanaburi, Jeerakiart Phumsawat, also arrived at the temple after Mr. Jeeraphan called him to let him know of the conditions there.

Mr Jeeraphan said he had previously filed a report with Dan Makhamtia Police Station, but officers there appeared to be playing down what he told them. He felt “in danger” and decided to seek help from the CSD, he said.

The rescue operation at the facility was broadcast live on Mr Jeeraphan’s Facebook page and drew a shocked reaction. It showed hundreds of drug addicts living in extremely poor and overcrowded conditions in a locked room with only two bathrooms. (continued below)

Jeeraphan Phetkhao, aka Shaman Mor Pla, left, and lawyer Paisarn Ruangrit, holding a document, speak to reporters as they arrive at the Crime Enforcement Division to file a complaint accusing the Wat Tha drug rehabilitation center Phu Rat Bamrung in Dan Makhamtia District of torture and other human rights violations. (Photo: Wassayos Ngamkham)

The media reported that the drug addicts were there both voluntarily and as a condition of their release by the police. Some had been committed by their families, others offered drug treatment at the temple in exchange for a clean criminal record.

All were to pay 12,000 baht each once they agreed to the treatment, and an additional 2,000 baht per month for food. Treatment was on a 12 month contract. An additional 10,000 baht has been requested for early release or breach of contract.

“In my opinion, there is an organized gang involving police officers, temples and rescue workers,” Jeeraphan said.

“It is unusual that the police in Kalasin and Roi Et provinces have taken so many people involved in illicit drugs to this temple to rehabilitate them. In some villages, 10 or more people were sent there.

“I hope National Police Chief Pol Gen Suwat Janyodsuk will watch TV coverage of this facility and investigate. If bad fingers are found, will he (the police chief) cut them off? Otherwise, he’ll cut his fingers off, won’t he? ” Said the shaman.

Mr Paisarn echoed the shaman’s remark about an organized gang operating at the rehabilitation center.

The lawyer said what was happening there was no different from human trafficking, starting with recruiting people, sending them to the center, demanding money, torturing and beating them.

It is important to note that two or three people are said to have died while they were “in treatment”, and no autopsy was performed, Mr Paisarn said.

Some of the people sent here were not drug addicts but people accused of other offenses such as fights and physical assault. They were taken there by the police who told the parents of the offenders that the charges would be dropped if they underwent a year of treatment at the temple drug rehab center. Parents had to pay the fees, Paisarn said.

One of the survivors 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 underwent a chest x-ray. There were no blood tests for drug use, he said.

The man’s name was withheld.

He said life in the drug rehab center was like being in jail. He received one meal a day and had to get up at 3:45 am to pray. If his prayers weren’t strong enough, or if he did not satisfy those responsible in some other way, they would deny him his food.

He said he only received one meal a day even though his parents sent money to the temple each month for his rations.

When government officials came to inspect the living conditions, the truth was covered up. He and the other patients could not reveal what was going on because they would have been punished.

On Wednesday, it was reported that the rehabilitation center had been closed.

The temple leadership said it was closed because there was no one left to supervise it, according to reports. The abbot who initiated the rehabilitation project died on Monday. He suffered from poor health and his condition deteriorated under the stress of the allegations.

Colonel Pol Atchasit Phumketkaew, chief of the Dan Makhamtia police station, confirmed on Wednesday that there were two deaths at the temple rehabilitation center. He said doctors performed an autopsy on both bodies.

Wutthinan Lodthong, 39, from Roi Et Province, died at the drug rehab center around 3:30 a.m. on September 17. Police and a doctor examined the body. He died of heart failure.

The other man was Theeraphan Manadee, 26, of Roi Et, who died around 3:20 a.m. on September 6. Police and a doctor jointly examined his body and the doctor concluded that he died of a lung infection, police chief Dan Makhamtia said.

Mr Jeeraphan posted a video clip on Wednesday featuring the raid on the temple’s rehabilitation center on his Facebook page. In the video, he is accompanied by a crowd of journalists.

Jeeraphan Phetkhao, aka Mor Pla, posted this video of Monday’s raid on the temple rehabilitation center in Dan Makhamtia district in Kanchanaburi. The provincial governor arrives wearing a pink shirt. (Mor Pla Chuay Duay Facebook page)

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