Mon, Sep 17, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Hundreds of Thais jailed by ‘fake’ bomb detectors

AFP, YALA, Thailand

Implicated by the wand of a “bogus” bomb detector, Hassan became one of hundreds detained in Thailand’s insurgency-racked south because of equipment that experts say is useless.

Scandal over the Thai army’s use of the GT200 detectors has deepened rancor toward the authorities in the Muslim-majority border region, where nearly 5,300 people have died in an eight-year conflict that shows no sign of abating.

Human rights activists say more than 400 people have been locked up — some for up to two years — on the basis of spurious evidence gleaned by the device, which is at the center of a British fraud probe.

“I was playing football at my school when someone shot at soldiers nearby,” said Hassan, who was held for 29 days without charge over the 2008 incident in Yala Province — a hot-bed of violence.

“The soldiers entered the school looking for the gunman. They lined us up and used the GT200. The antenna pointed to me ... and they took me away,” he added, asking for his identity to be withheld because he fears reprisals for speaking out over his detention.

Billed as being able to detect minute traces of explosives, gun powder and even drugs, the GT200 is the army’s main detection tool.

The hand-held device, which is claimed to be powered by the user’s static electricity rather than a battery, is advertised as using a substance-detecting “sensor card” inside a plastic handle to trigger a twitch of its antenna in the direction of explosives.

Evidence debunking the powers of the GT200 — sold by Britain-based Global Technical — has long been in circulation, with experts describing it as little more than a radio aerial stuck on a useless piece of plastic despite the company’s claims that it can detect explosives from hundreds of meters away.

In July the man behind the GT200 was charged in Britain with “dishonestly representing” the device as “capable of detecting explosives.”

Several other British businesspeople are awaiting trial for selling similarly defunct equipment around the world — including to Iraq.

A Thai government probe concluded the device works only 25 percent of the time, a success rate critics attribute to nothing more than random chance.

“Tossing a coin would be more accurate,” said Angkhana Neelapaijit, of the Justice for Peace foundation, which uncovered the scandal.

“People in the south knew the GT200 was fake from the first time it was used” in 2007, she said.

Thailand’s highest investigating agency is now mulling legal action against Global Technical and its Thai distributors.

However, the powerful military has refused to concede it was duped over its rumored US$20 million acquisition, or apologize to those held in what rights groups say is a flagrant miscarriage of justice.

Hassan said he was threatened and interrogated in detention and forced to point out friends from a school photograph.

Among them was Ayub who said he was arrested with no further evidence and held for two years before he was freed without a conviction or an apology.

“I’m so angry. They took two years away from me, but I am scared it can happen again,” Ayub said, also asking for his identity to be protected.

He said he now carries the stigma of having been accused of links to the militants, who are believed to want greater autonomy and kill both Buddhists and Muslims in near-daily bomb or gun attacks.

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