Family of Thai Muslim who died in army custody seeks justice

In this Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019, photo, Muslim villagers load the body of Abdulloh Esomuso on the truck to a cemetery in Pattani southern of Thailand. (AP Photo)
In this Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019, photo, Muslim villagers load the body of Abdulloh Esomuso on the truck to a cemetery in Pattani southern of Thailand. (AP Photo)

Bangkok (AP) — Relatives of a Muslim man who died after interrogation in Thai army custody said Monday they’ll pursue justice to see if his death was caused by torture.

Abdulloh Esomuso was arrested July 20 on suspicion of being a Muslim separatist insurgent and was found unconscious the next day in his cell at the Ingkhayut army base in the southern province of Pattani. He died on Sunday.

A statement from Songklanagarind Hospital, where Abdulloh died, said the cause of death was pneumonia, and Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan said Monday that the 34-year-old man’s death wasn’t caused by the government. The army has been accused repeatedly of using torture to combat a long-running insurgency in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala thatinsurgency that has left about 7,000 people dead since 2004.

Abdulloh’s cousin, Mohammad Rahmap Mame, said his family won’t give up on finding out what happened.

He said the family saw no point in having an autopsy, because it had no confidence in the hospital or officials, so “the autopsy would not give us anything, other than adding more pain and sorrow.”

“But we will not let go of this case. Right now, we are in a mourning period, but after this, the family will decide on how to pursue justice for Abdulloh,” he said by phone.

Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, responding to a question in Parliament on July 25, dismissed allegations of torture.

“You said he was tortured. He was examined by doctors and they did not find anything. He just fainted. He fainted after he was arrested. Do you watch movies too much?” Prayuth said.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said Thai authorities “should immediately conduct an independent and credible investigation into the death of a suspected insurgent after being interrogated in military custody.”

It characterized Abdulloh’s death as “an important test case for the Thai government on whether it is willing to address rights violations in military detention.”

“Thai leaders need to demonstrate that they are serious about conducting an independent investigation and prosecute any wrongdoing or risk complicity for yet another unlawful conduct of soldiers,” the group’s Asia director, Brad Adams, said in a statement. Human Rights Watch noted that a military investigation established on July 22 had made little progress.

Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission on Monday issued a statement saying that it had received Abdulloh’s case from the family but was delayed in working on it while waiting for the appointment of new members.

The commission said it had made three recommendations to the government based on 100 complaints of alleged torture.

It urged a legal framework be established for Thailand to support the international Convention Against Torture, and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; that the military body responsible for security in the south provide timely information about national security detainees; and that the commission’s officials be allowed to inspect detention centers and meet in a timely fashion with detainees.