Imam’s killing is test for justice in Thailand: rights group

March 26th, 2008 - 12:29 pm ICT by admin  

Bangkok, March 26 (DPA) The slaying and alleged torture of an imam by authorities in southern Thailand poses a “key test” for the country’s justice system, deemed one of the causes of the cycle of violence in the area, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday. The New York-based human rights group said the death this month of Yapa Koseng has highlighted the broader problem of ill treatment of Muslims in Thai Army custody during operations against militants.

“Prosecuting troops for mistreatment could actually help calm the situation and rebuild trust with the Muslim community,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

“The insurgents justify illegal attacks on civilians by saying they’re retaliating against abuses by Thai security forces, and the Thai Army responds in kind,” Adams said. “It is a deadly and pointless vicious circle.”

Yapa, a 56-year-old Muslim religious leader, was arrested March 19 and sent to an army camp in Narathiwat province, part of Thailand’s deep south, where an estimated 3,000 people have died in an escalating separatist struggle over the past four years.

Two days later, Yapa’s body was returned to relatives with bruises, burn marks and broken ribs.

Thailand’s army chief, General Anupong Phaochinda, has promised that a special committee would be set up to investigate Yapa’s death and has promised to punish those found guilty.

Human Rights Watch has interviewed numerous Muslims in Thailand’s southern provinces who were recently released from detention at Thai Army facilities who complained of being tortured as well as lawyers and independent medical experts who have seen detainees during and after their release.

The most common forms of torture and other ill treatment were ear slapping, punching, kicking, beating with wooden and metal clubs, forced nudity, exposure to cold temperatures, electrical shock, strangulation and suffocation with plastic bags, the rights group said in a statement.

Under Thailand’s emergency law, which governs the three southernmost provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala, authorities are permitted to detain suspected militants for 37 days without charge and can prohibit detainees from having visitors for the first 72 hours.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on the Thai government and army to ensure the safety of all detainees, to provide medical care to all who sustain injuries during arrest or detention, to allow timely access to legal counsel and family members, and to launch a full investigation into allegations of torture and ill treatment.

The three provinces bordering Malaysia comprised the independent Islamic sultanate of Pattani more than 200 years ago before it fell under Bangkok’s rule. More than 80 percent of the three provinces’ two million people are Muslims, making the region an anomaly in predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

A separatist struggle has simmered in the area for decades but took a turn for the worse in January 2004 when Muslim militants attacked an army depot and stole 300 weapons, prompting a crackdown that further inflamed the local population against the government.

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