Global response needed to arrest of Thai Muslim youth

2016-10-31 11:56:45

More than 100 Malay Muslim youth from Thailand's southernmost provinces have been detained by security officials in the capital over the past three weeks, prompting their leaders to call on the international community to take action against Bangkok.

Global response needed to arrest of Thai Muslim youth
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Some were held for two days, and others up to seven. In all around ten have not been released and their status remains unknown.

Just as unclear is when this so-called crackdown will come to an end.

On Oct. 18, Col. Winthai Suwaree, spokesman for the National Council for Peace and Order (the ruling junta's self-anointed name), told reporters that the mass arrest of Patani Malay students in the Bangkok area resulted in the identification of five men who authorities said are linked to unrest in the far South.

The five, however, are not students.

Patani youth and student leaders have said that while all too familiar with such harassment, the way that authorities tossed out such a wide net just to catch a few fish has left them particularly aggrieved.

The youth said the authorities were extremely disrespectful with their operation. The murky nature of the operation itself prompted local civil society organizations to raise their concern.

In reaction to the harassment, the Federation of Patani Students and Youth (Permas), a student-led political movement, issued a statement calling on the United Nations and the international community to closely monitor the situation on the ground.

The group said it is “seriously concerned about the state's security policies as there is a likelihood that Patani people may be further targeted and made scapegoats for future violence during Thailand's unstable political situation”. It called on the UN to monitor law enforcement in Thailand and its Security Council to take part in the peace process to “secure the safety of the people and bring sustainable peace to the region".

Suhaimee Dulasa, a senior member of the Patani Institute, a local civil society organization, said, “The operation was political in nature. The Malays of Patani are the only people who continue to carry out their political activities, unlike other political action groups in other parts of Thailand.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, some of the key leaders in the youth movement told Anadolu Agency this week that part of the reason for the “harassment” is related to their refusal to “become the authorities’ tools” in an effort to antagonize and discredit the key separatist group, namely the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN).

This has greatly frustrated Thai security officials, said the leaders on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal from Thai authorities.

Thai security officials told Anadolu Agency that they believe the youth activists are an “extension” of the BRN, one of the long-standing separatist movements that surfaced in the mid-1960s to take up arms against the Thai state.

The BRN is not part of ongoing unofficial peace talks that the government has been conducting with the MARA Patani, a network of six long-standing separatist organizations that has no command-and-control over the insurgents on the ground.

Bangkok’s strategy is centered on the hope that MARA Patani could convince the insurgents on the ground to give them and the talks a chance. But the combatants’ loyalty to the BRN is still very much intact.

At the beginning of the crackdown three weeks ago, there were reports that the possibility of car bombs in Bangkok were the primary reason behind the initial mass round up of Patani Malay students.

“It was just an excuse to justify launching the crackdown,” Suhaimee said.

But within days, the narrative about the car bomb was dropped. A new explanation made vague reference to countering possible terrorist plots to commemorate the anniversary of the 2004 Tak Bai massacre, an incident that ended in the death of 85 unarmed Muslims demonstrating against the arrest of village officers accused by police of willingly handing over government-issued weapons to insurgents.

Of the 85 who died Oct. 25 that year, 78 suffocated after being stacked one on top of another on the back of military transport trucks while another seven were shot dead at the protest site.

On Oct. 21, the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights issued a statement calling on the government to refrain from arbitrarily arresting Patani Malay Muslim students residing in Bangkok and urged the release of those who are being held without charges.

Thai Malay youth leaders from the Patani region said it’s an open secret that they and the Thai security officials, especially those tasked with resolving the ongoing conflict in the Malay-speaking South, have been at loggerheads on just about every issue -- from the ongoing peace talks to the conduct of the security forces in this restive region, where more than 6,000 people have died from insurgency-related violence since January 2004.

Allegations of gross human rights violations committed by security officials are ripe and well documented by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

The youth leaders said Thai officials take the differences personally because it’s difficult for them to comprehend the idea that Malay Muslims from the Patani region do not embrace the country’s nation-state narrative and construct.

Col. Pramote Prom-in, a spokesman for the Fourth Army Area (the Thai army command that oversees the conflict in the far South), said authorities would not hesitate to arrest any of the Permas activists if their “slandering” of Thai authorities goes beyond what the law permits.

Patani Malay youth said because of differences in their political outlook, Thai authorities tend to see them as troublemakers and place them under the watchful eyes of Thai security forces.

Some agencies have even set up counter intelligence units to discredit these activists through social media, while others, especially those working on the various peace initiatives and secret talks with the rebels, have tried to use them as go-betweens.

But what is clear, according to these youth activists, is that they will not sell their soul to the Thai authorities.

The youth leaders have consistently said that the right to self-determination and the ability to chart their own course is the key to peace.

In this respect, the Thai state and the BRN will have to talk about the root causes and the historical grievances of the conflict, which Bangkok appears to never want to do.

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