Human Rights Watch appeals to new premier to enforce justice

New York-based Human Rights Watch on Thursday appealed to newly appointed Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to show "political courage" in ensuring the prosecution of soldiers found guilty of torturing an imam to death in southern Thailand.

On December 25, 2008, the Narathiwat provincial court ruled that Imam Yapa Kaseng, 56, had been tortured to death by Thai soldiers while being interrogated on March 20-21, reported dpa.

"The court gave a brave and unprecedented verdict in the inquest, putting the finger on torture and other abuses committed by Thai security forces," said Brad Adams, Asian director for Human Rights Watch.

Adams noted that Abhisit had pledged on December 30 to uphold justice in Thailand's troubled deep-South, where more than 3,500 people have died in a separatist struggle over the past four years.  

"Now it is Prime Minister Abhisit's turn to show political courage and ensure the prosecution of the soldiers and officers who ordered and carried out the killing," said Adams in a statement made available in Bangkok.

He noted that the court's ruling had corroborated the findings of Human Rights Watch's own investigations in the deep South - comprising Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces - of the widespread use of torture.

The majority-Muslin region has been under Emergency Decree since late 2004, allowing security authorities to arrest and detain suspected separatists without filing charges.

Human Rights Watch called on the new government to end the Emergency Decree.

"As a priority, the new government needs to overhaul the counterinsurgency strategy that encourages abuses, impose effective civilian control over the army, and provide efficient redress for victims of abuses," said Adams. "By relying on repressive measures and restrictions on fundamental human rights, Thai authorities have created a fertile ground for the insurgency to expand."

Abhisit, the leader of the former opposition Democrat party, has come to power by welding together a coalition government of small parties and a splinter faction of the previous People Power Party, that led the last government.

Army Commander-in-Chief General Anupong Paojinda reportedly played a role in pressuring politicians to join the Democrat-led coalition, although he has denied involvement.

Thailand's long simmering separatist movement in the deep-South took a bloodier turn for the worse in January 2004, when Muslim militants raided an army arms depot and stole 300 weapons.

Then under the premiership of Thaksin Shinawatra, the army launched several reprisals on the rebels that left scores dead and inflamed the local population against Bangkok.

More than 8,000 cases of violence in the area have claimed more than 3,500 lives in the region since then due to clashes, bombings, assassinations and beheadings.

The three provinces comprised the independent Islamic sultanate of Pattani more than 200 years ago before it fell under Bangkok's rule. More than 80 per cent of the three provinces' 2 million people are Muslim, making the region an anomaly in predominantly Buddhist Thailand.

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