Martial law. The rule of the military in the south provinces of Thailand (ThaiSouth) has been around for about a decade, due to insurgency between warring Patani factions and the security forces. That said, the junta lifted martial law on 1st April and replaced it with Article 44. Even so, many in ThaiSouth have not seen any improvement to their way of life, despite the post-coup, junta-funded “Return Happiness to the People” programs. The countryside is still a heavily-militarized zone, the towns guarded by paramilitary rangers, the streets monitored by the police, and in fact special military law is the “rule of law” in these parts.
The presence of sentry posts on major roads, soldiers patrolling rubber plantations, spot checks on villages and military propaganda in major towns. And lets not forget the militancy, with the heavy use of improvised explosive devices and intimidation that affects the southerners, both Muslim and Buddhists.
The recent arrests of university students and young people widen the gap between the authorities and the southern communities. The swift crackdown conducted by security forces focused on over 20 youths, in what many in the south are condemning as unjustified. In large groups, parents, families and supporters went to the army camps to demand for answers, while others took to public areas and social media to demand for the release of the students.
A representative from a community-based Patani media group “Free Voice” told me that 11 students remain under military detention. They explained that martial law was used to detain the students.
“Askar di bagi mahasiswa kepada police station juga di camp askar dan mengguna undang daruarat.”
And that the authorities took fingerprints and DNA samples from the students without explanation. According to Free Voice, one of the student was slapped during the crackdown.
“Pada kali itu dia di ambil fingerprint juga DNA mahasiswa dengan tanpa alasan. Juga ada salah satu dari mahasiswa di tampar di muka ketika dalam operasi itu.”
Unlike Bangkok, in ThaiSouth the detention of “suspects” accused of being part of the militancy or sympathizers or even those who seek a return to democracy go largely unnoticed by Thailand’s mainstream media. Sometimes equivalent to a hiccup in Siam history. Speaking to a Thai friend living in Bangkok, who prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons, he said that the army propaganda contributes to the marginalization of the southern population.
“Unfortunately, Bangkokians don’t see them as part of Thai society. They don’t have feelings for deep south people. Religion and non-stop violence for years play a big part on this.”
Hakim Pontigor, the deputy president of external affairs of the Federation of Patanian Students and Youth (PERMAS), shared his views and concerns with me on the latest situation of human rights.
“There is discrimination, how people outside and (the) army treat the Patani people. When they see us use kepiah (short rounded skullcap), they think we are bad. And there is a special law that we have to live under.”
I asked him what PERMAS and their networks plan to do. Hakim said they are providing moral support to the detainees and their families, and plan to submit a letter to the United Nations. In the mean time, part of the campaigning for justice is on social media, in the effort to mobilize more support from within the region. He believed that there will be an impact to the upcoming peace process between the insurgents and the junta.
“This detention and abuse will affect the peace process because it proves that the junta is not sincere.”
Regarding the ruling provincial authority and politicians, Hakim said:
“Thailand is clever to give some rights to the Patani people for religion and social factors. But there are many policies that we don’t agree, for example lack of religion programs and education. We also think they have violated our rights in mineral resources in our land, such as gas.”
“But there some positive impacts on our lives, as in there are Patani politicians who try to champion for our rights. What is important for our people is that we do not want handouts from Thailand because we want to determine our own fate. We want self-determination.”
Young people are full of ideals, growing from the rural parts of the south and most distrusting the military which they see as the government. Poverty, social marginalization and lack of rights-based approach towards community-building prevent peace from materializing. Not to mention the stigmatization of being associated with being born or living in the south.
Many are concerned about the state of “governance” and wonder how Thailand’s coup-leader cum prime minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, would be able to build trust in the south. Trust in a conflict-torn land is an ingredient sorely needed for peace, coupled with human rights of the population that must be protected.
As for Hakim, the crackdown has not deterred him from PERMAS goals, and his own. He hopes the citizens of Malaysia offer support, as it is only right for the community to decide their own destiny and freedom.
“Kami mau persokongan dari rakyat Malaysia. Orang Patani dapat menentukan nasib Patani sediri kalu merdeka sama Malaysia itu cita2 kami.”