Thai cadet

A Thai cadet's death sparks a national debate on military's culture of corporal punishment

Phakhapong Tanyakan's body was returned to his family with missing organs after a military autopsy, leading family members to suspect that he had not, as reported, died from heart failure

Johanna Chisholm
November 28, 2017
A Thai cadet's death sparks a national debate on military's culture of corporal punishment

The suspicious death of an 18-year-old Thai cadet who was training at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School last month has sparked a national debate, both online and in-person, about the corporal punishment culture that many believe to be rampant in the country’s military schools.

Phakhapong Tanyakan was found dead last month while at school and was said to have died from a cardiac arrest, a conclusion that was produced by a military-run hospital’s autopsy.

It was only after the cadet’s body was returned to his family with vital organs missing, something they had not been warned about ahead of time, that they began to question whether the military’s assessment of their son’s cause-of-death was correct.

During a press conference held yesterday in Chon Buri province, the parents and sister of Phakhapong shared the preliminary findings from an autopsy they had conducted after the military one.

In the second autopsy report, the mother of the cadet said that a doctor had told her that the internal bleeding patterns in her son’s spleen and liver suggested that he had not died from a cardiac arrest, but had succumbed to the injuries from what looked like being hit by a hard object.

The military claimed that the injuries that appeared in the autopsy report were the result of attempting CPR on the boy, but the second autopsy report that the family had requested indicated otherwise.

The Nation has reported that the family has grown suspicious that corporal punishment and the school’s culture of hazing may have been at play with their son’s death.

“Prior to his death, my son had just recovered from an illness. The people at the school were heartless to him,” the Nation reported the cadet’s mother, Sukalya Tanyakan, as saying during the press conference.

The highly publicised and emotionally charged investigation into the boy’s death has ignited some online activists to start a campaign. In the petition, they call for an independent investigation into Phakhapong’s death and also ask that there be an inquiry into the systematic culture of violence within the military academy. The campaign now has over 74,000 signatures.

And yesterday, a group of political and civil society groups petitioned in front of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to submit a petition to Angkhana Neelapaijit, a member of NHRC, for a formal examination of Phakhapong’s death.

The group’s statement, which included members from the League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy, Anti-Sotus, Third Way Thailand and more, suggested that the death of the cadet was not without precedent for investigation, as there have been eight documented cases since 2011 of cadets dying while in military-facilities.

NHRC is bound to investigate human-rights violations and make suggestions for preventing future occurrences, but the group’s statement accused the commission of not living up to their obligations for the past seven years and that they were merely acting as a wing of the military regime, the Bangkok Post reported.

In response to these recent waves of public outcry to the cadet’s death, the Thai military has offered up an internal investigation, though they have made it evidently clear that they will not seek assistance from the NHRC.

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