Asia - Pacific

Southern Thailand: Heartbreak of martial law

Rights group records 13,000 people were arrested since 2004 after imposition of martial law in the region

Pizaro Gozali Idrus   | 02.10.2019
Southern Thailand: Heartbreak of martial law

PATTANI, Thailand

Sumayyah Minka, 30, could not forget the face of her husband, Abdullah Isomuso, 32, on the night of July 20, 2019.

That night, Isomuso, a rubber farmer, was taken by the Thai army and found unconscious in a military camp in Pattani, southern Thailand, the following day.

He was arrested for allegedly being involved in a rebellion in the Muslim-majority region.

"The military never gave us evidence," Minka told Anadolu Agency on Thursday.

After days of trying seeking answers, Minka managed to find out her husband was being treated at a hospital following interrogation by authorities.

She found Isomuso lying in a coma. "There were torture marks on his hands and feet," she said, showing photographs of her husband lying in intensive care.

Isomuso later died in the southern province Songkhla after remaining unconscious for 35 days.

Minka said the military and hospital never provided a detailed explanation on why her husband was in a coma.

"They only said that my husband slipped in the toilet," said Sumayyah, who argued that this reason did not make sense.

Widowed, Minka had to make a living by herself to support her two sons, one seven and the other two years old.

Despite having accepted her husband's death, Minka said she would continue to seek justice.

Together with other residents, she wrote to the Thai parliament to investigate the incident.

"I want the perpetrators to be punished," she said, desperately.

Taking Thai headlines by storm, this incident brought a number of rights groups in a jointly signed statement to urge the government to thoroughly investigate the case.

Isomuso was not the first person to encounter violence from the military in southern Thailand, as the region has been under martial law since 2004.

Ismi bin Abdul Malik, 34, was a victim of military violence in 2007.

Bin Abdul Malik said he was arrested for alleged involvement in terrorism.

However, he added, the charge was changed to involvement in a rebellion movement since the allegations could not be proven.

"In fact, I only participated in a protest against human rights violations against the Patani people," he said.

He said he had to spend nine days in jail where he received various torture including being beaten with metal rods, shocked with electricity and having ice water dumped on him.

"I was finally released from prison as the accusations couldn't be proven," he said.

- Nearly 13,000 arrested under martial law

The government has imposed martial law in three Muslim-majority provinces in southern Thailand -- Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala -- following deadly violences in 2004.

Since then, at least 12,930 residents have been arrested by the military, according to the Prey Network of Emergency Law (JASAD), a group advocating for victims of soldier violence in Pattani.

Director of the group Abdullah Ngoh said cases of violence against citizens were inseparable from the enactment of the Martial Law.

The law authorized military officers to search for residents and arrest anyone suspected of being involved in activities that threaten security without an official warrant, he stated.

The Thai government also deployed a number of military checkpoints on the streets in the region, with military and police personnel remaining on round-the-clock guard across urban areas to maintain security.

"With this law, the military is free to arrest even if they’re only armed with suspicion," Ngoh said.

Based on JASAD’s records, there have been 123 residents, including four women, arrested in the Pattani and Songkhla provinces since January 2019.

Ngoh said a total of 77 of them have since been released with 46 still remaining in custody.

"The Thai military never gave a detailed explanation on why they were arrested," he said.

He added that many residents were unaware of how to seek justice.

"Most of them don’t understand the law," said Ngoh, added that JASAD would continue to focus on advocacy and legal counseling.

*Pizaro Gozali Idrus, a reporter at Anadolu Agency's Indonesian language services, writes this story for Anadolu Agency English News Desk after visiting Pattani, Thailand.

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