With her spiky dyed hair, glitter makeup, and garish fashion sense, Porntip Rojanasunan stands out just about anywhere in Thailand. But she's not known only for her retro-punk style. As deputy director of Thailand's Central Institute of Forensic Science for the past 2 1/2 years, Porntip has gained nationwide recognition for her work probing violent deaths.
Dubbed "Dr. Death" by the local media, the 50-year-old Porntip is known as an outspoken, independent-minded examiner -- and a real agenda-setter in human rights in Asia. Her findings have led her to accuse the police of torture and murder, particularly during the government's war on drug trafficking, in which some 2,200 people died in extrajudicial killings in 2003. She grabbed headlines again last November when 78 Muslims, stacked on top of each other in trucks, died of suffocation in Thailand's south while in custody.
Thai police have sued Porntip for challenging their version of events. The most recent incident came after she said on TV on June 18 that a victim was involved in a homicide; the police claimed he committed suicide. The police sued for defamation and the case is pending.
Porntip doesn't consider herself brave, however. "I just try to do the right thing every day," she says. "It's my Buddhist belief." She proved that after last December's tsunami, which took more than 10,000 lives in Thailand. She was on the scene within six hours and worked every day for nearly 40 days.
When she's not working, Porntip cranks out books based on her cases, including a best-seller, Fight for the Death. A fan of TV crime series like CSI: New York, Porntip says she has even learned new forensic tricks from them. You could call it death imitating art.
By Frederik Balfour