A Thai court on Wednesday sentenced six police officers to life imprisonment for torturing and killing a drug suspect during an interrogation last year.

The case caused outrage in Thailand and provided a glimpse of the level of police brutality critics say is carried out on a regular basis.

Among the officers sentenced was police Superintendent Thitisan Utthanaphon, also known as “Joe Ferrari,” whose opulent lifestyle is also under investigation.

Viral torture video exposed abuse

Utthanaphon was arrested along with the other officers in August after a video of the interrogation went viral.

The clip showed the interrogation of a 24-year-old drug suspect whose head was wrapped with seven plastic bags while being questioned.

The officers had also tried to extort $60,000 (€54,800) during the interrogation. The man died as a result of the torture.

Riot police are deployed at a main road intersection area ahead of a pro-democracy protest in Bangkok in 2020

Human rights groups say that police brutality remains a challenge in Thailand

The court had initially sentenced the policemen to death, but that was commuted to life sentences because attempts had been made to revive the suspect according to court records.

Utthanaphon was a police chief in Nakhon Sawan province and is also under investigation over the extent of his wealth. Luxury cars including a Lamborghini and Ferrari were discovered in a raid at his Bangkok residence.

Human rights observers skeptical of any change

Human rights groups said the verdict was an important development, but that abuse of power remains a significant challenge.

Phil Robertson is the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch and told AFP news agency that the sentencing of the officers was an “exceptional” case in Thailand.

“For every case like this, there are dozens more where police torture is covered up and victims and whistleblowers face retaliation, and police impunity to commit abuses is alive and well,” Robertson said.

“This case may have put a temporary dent in the culture of police impunity in Thailand, but you can be sure that the overall system has not changed,” he added.

kb/rs (Reuters, AFP)

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