March 11, 2017
‘Top Muslim lawyer disappears. Believed abducted for opposing martial law,” read a headline in this newspaper 13 years ago.
On March 12, 2004, Somchai Neelapaijit was last seen in Ramkhamhaeng. Eyewitnesses saw four men drag him from his car. No one has seen him since. Tomorrow marks the 13th anniversary of his disappearance — isn’t that oxymoronic, an anniversary of something invisible, for someone who wasn’t here?
Or maybe he is. To remember is to make someone exist. To forget is to condemn him to the dustbin of memory, to collective oblivion.
Every year friends and family organise an event to remember Mr Somchai. Today people are gathering at the Pridi Banomyong Institute in Thong Lor for “Somchai Where? Where’s Somchai?”, held not just to honour him with memory but also to reflect on the way justice works, or doesn’t work, in cases of human rights violations and enforced disappearances. The event includes the announcement of the Somchai Neelapaijit Award for human rights defenders.
Mr Somchai had been working in law for 30 years and, at the time of his disappearance, was representing five Muslim suspects allegedly involved in the army camp raid in Narathiwat in January 2004, the incident that blew up into the interminable unrest in the far South. He was also vociferous in his call for the army to end martial law in the troubled region, which remains in effect today.