(New York) – Thai authorities should release or charge with a credible offense an ethnic Malay Muslim human rights activist who has been detained in the deep south, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities arrested Burhan Buraheng of the human rights group Jaringan Mangsa Dari Undang-Undang Darurat (JASAD) under martial law provisions, and have held him in a military camp without access to a lawyer or effective safeguards against mistreatment.
“The Thai authorities’ arrest of a well-known rights activist without any apparent basis sets off alarm bells given the countless reports of mistreatment by the military in the deep south,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Thai government should immediately remove Burhan from military custody, give his lawyer and family access, and release him, unless he is credibly charged.”
On August 1, 2018, Thai security forces arrested Burhan at his house in Pattani province’s Sai Buri district. Soldiers initially detained him at the Sai Buri district police station before transferring him to Ingkayuth Boriharn military camp on the same day for further investigation under the 1914 Martial Law Act. Burhan and his family have not been notified about the basis of his arrest.
The Thai government’s use of the Martial Law Act in southern border provinces has long enabled the military to violate the basic rights of detainees. This 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. There is no effective judicial oversight or prompt access to legal counsel and family members.
In addition, there is no effective redress since the law bars remedy or compensation to individuals for any damage caused by military actions done in line with martial law powers. Detention can often be further extended for another 30 days, and be renewed without limits under the 2005 Emergency Decree on Public Administration in State of Emergency.
Since January 2004, a brutal armed conflict has taken place in Thailand’s southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat. Of the more than 6,000 people killed, about 90 percent have been civilians from the ethnic Thai Buddhist and ethnic Malay Muslim populations. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly condemned laws-of-war violations by separatist groups and by Thailand’s security forces.
“Thailand’s fight against a separatist insurgency in the deep south does not justify empowering soldiers to commit abuses with impunity,” Adams said. “Arbitrary detention and unaccountable officials are a recipe for abuses that will only serve to alienate the people in this restive region.”