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Roning Dolah, anti-torture activist, was shot dead on June 25, 2024 in Thailand's Pattani province.  © 2023 Duay Jai Foundation

(Bangkok) – Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a prominent human rights defender in Pattani province in southern Thailand on June 25, 2024, Human Rights Watch said today. Thai authorities should urgently conduct a transparent and impartial investigation into the killing of Roning Dolah, 45, and bring those responsible to justice.

On June 25 at about 8:45 p.m., two assailants on a motorcycle opened fire at Roning with assault rifles in front of his family in Pattani’s Yarang district, instantly killing him, his wife said. Local police said seven 7.62mm and one 5.56mm bullet casings were found at the scene. 

“The brutal killing of a prominent human rights defender underscores that anyone who speaks out for justice in Thailand’s deep south is at risk,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thai authorities should urgently and transparently investigate this killing and bring all those responsible for Roning Dolah’s death to justice.”

On June 26, the Thai government’s Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 – responsible for counterinsurgency operations in the deep south – issued a statement expressing condolences to Roning’s family and asked for witnesses with information to come forward, but did not announce a full criminal investigation into his killing. 

Roning was widely known in Thailand’s southern border provinces for assisting ethnic Malay Muslim victims of arbitrary arrest and torture by Thai security forces in counterinsurgency operations in Songkhla, Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat provinces. He had previously been arrested and tortured in military custody, according to the Cross Cultural Foundation. Thai human rights groups used his accounts and information he gathered from other torture victims in their campaigns to demand accountability for military abuses and advocate for Thailand’s Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearances, which took effect in February 2023. 

But during 20 years of armed insurgency in Thailand’s southern border provinces, not a single soldier or other security personnel member has been prosecuted for unlawfully detaining, torturing, or extrajudicially killing suspected insurgents.

Thailand has an obligation under international human rights law to ensure that all human rights defenders and organizations can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment, Human Rights Watch said.

The killing of Roning is a crucial test of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s pledge to promote and protect human rights in his speeches to the Thai parliament on September 11, 2023, and to the United Nations General Assembly on September 22. Despite Thailand’s adoption of a much-advertised national human rights agenda and its efforts to be elected to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2025-2027 term, Thai authorities have done little to address threats and violence, as well as the use of strategic lawsuits by government agencies and non-state actors to silence those reporting human rights violations.

“The Srettha government should promptly act to reverse the deepening climate of fear in Thailand’s deep south by showing that those responsible for killing Roning will be held to account,” Pearson said. “Thai authorities should take concrete measures to protect the rights of ethnic Malay Muslims to speak out about state-sponsored abuses and demand justice.”

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