It is not unusual for police to bring suspects in high-profile cases to press conferences, exposing them to the media and a barrage of cameras.
The practice has been so common that some people forget that the “suspect” has not been found guilty of any crime and revealing their identity constitutes a human rights violation.
“Please stop this practice. It violates the rights of suspects,” National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelaphaijit said.
She said the practice was especially sensitive in human-trafficking cases, where questions posed to alleged victims should be done behind closed doors by a multidisciplinary team.
“It’s very worrying that in high-profile flesh trade cases, senior policemen have brought suspects and victims to press conferences,” Angkhana said.
She said her agency planned to investigate related human rights violations.
“Don’t forget that suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty,” she said.
The Deputy National Police Commissioner has recently been present at press conferences alongside suspects in a much-publicised child-prostitution scandal. Even the mother of a girl who was allegedly coerced into the flesh trade has been present. While there, suspects and others involved in the case had to answer questions posed by reporters.
The abuse of accused people’s rights continues even though the Prime Minister and National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) chief has ordered police not to bring suspects to press conferences.
Moreover, a National Police Office order prohibits police from bringing suspects, alleged victims or witnesses to press conferences, except in cases where their presence was considered useful to the public and supervisors had given permission.
Regardless, those orders have been largely ignored.
Suspects whose names are later cleared after legal proceedings will find it difficult to reintegrate into society because members of the public may remember their faces, but will not know that they had been acquitted as the media does not report every acquittal verdict.
Even people who are convicted of a crime and have served their punishment are often remembered as criminals because of the media coverage, making it difficult for them to return to normal roles in society.
Many reporters welcome press conferences with the presentation of suspects, but most are aware they are violating a suspect’s human rights. However, press conferences make it easier for reporters to access information needed to do their jobs while some also believe the events give suspects a chance to present their side of a story.
“In cases in which the suspects are really innocent, their access to reporters will give them a chance to talk to the public and to make their voices heard,” one reporter said.
Another reporter said the presentation of suspects’ faces could be really useful to the public. “They [members of the public] can better protect themselves,” he said.
Many reporters support the protection of suspects’ human rights and have said that there are other channels to bring justice to scapegoats in criminal cases and protect members of the public. “There is no need to present suspects at police press conferences,” another reporter said.
At present, the Department of Special Investigation’s press conferences exclude the appearance of suspects.
This should never be an issue. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. In all crime reports the press go to great lengths to use the word “alleged” so why are these people being paraded in front of the media before going to trial? The public immediately view them as guilty and probably most are.
However, even if only one is innocent, that is one too many !