(New York) – The Thai government should immediately end the incommunicado military detention of a prominent ethnic Malay Muslim human rights activist, Human Rights Watch said today. Aiman Hadeng, chair of the Justice for Peace Network, has been detained in a military camp in Thailand’s Yala province since February 23, 2018, without effective safeguards against mistreatment.
“The Thai military’s incommunicado detention of a well-known rights activist should set off alarm bells given the army’s long history of abuse in southern Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Thai government can address the growing concerns for Aiman’s safety by immediately allowing him access to his family and lawyer, bringing him before a judge, and moving him to civilian custody or releasing him.”
On February 23, soldiers took Aiman from his house in Yala province’s Muang district during a security raid. Holding him under the 1914 Martial Law Act, the military prohibited Aiman from calling his lawyer, confiscated his mobile phone, and detained him at the 12th Task Force Camp. He was later transferred to the 41st Taharn Pran Paramilitary Division for further interrogation, allegedly for involvement in the separatist insurgency. After several days in detention, he has yet to appear before a judge.
The risk of enforced disappearance, torture, and other ill-treatment significantly increases when detainees are held incommunicado in informal places of detention, such as military camps.
The enforcement of the Martial Law Act in Thailand’s southern border provinces has long raised concerns that the rights of detainees are not respected. This draconian law provides military authorities with legal immunity and broad powers to detain individuals without charge in informal places of detention for up to seven days. The detention can be further extended for another 30 days, which can be renewed without limits, under the 2005 Emergency Decree on Public Administration in a State of Emergency. The Martial Law Act does not ensure prompt access to legal counsel or family members and there is no effective judicial oversight.
Military authorities have often delayed providing information on detainees and their whereabouts, heightening concerns about enforced disappearance and mistreatment. There is no effective redress since the Martial Law Act bars remedy or compensation to individuals for any damage caused by military actions under martial law powers.
Those who commit recognized criminal offenses should be appropriately charged and promptly prosecuted in accordance with international human rights standards.
Since January 2004, a violent armed conflict has taken place in Thailand’s southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat. Of more than 6,000 people killed, about 90 percent have been civilians from both the ethnic Malay Muslim and ethnic Thai Buddhist populations. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned laws of war violations by the separatist insurgents and Thai security forces.
The Pejuang Kemerdekaan Patani (Patani Freedom Fighters) – separatist insurgents in the loose network of the National Revolutionary Front, or BRN – have maintained their presence in hundreds of villages in southern Thailand. The insurgents use state sponsored abuses and heavy-handed counterinsurgency tactics to recruit new members and justify their campaign of violence and terror. This rhetoric has been reinforced by an entrenched culture of impunity for human rights violations by government security forces.
“The Thai government is fighting a violent separatist insurgency, but that does not empower the military to detain people without access to a judge, lawyer, or their family,” Adams said. “By holding people incommunicado, the military authorities are only increasing distrust among the local population.”