Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha on Tuesday denied allegations that the Thai military had tortured a suspected rebel who died more than a month after falling into a coma while in army custody in Thailand’s insurgency-hit Deep South.
Speaking for the first time in public about the case that has attracted the attention of human rights advocates, who are pressing for full official accountability in the death of Abdullah Esomuso, Prayuth said his government was “open for an investigation to make things clear.”
“The government says all along it does not have a policy to use violence on suspected individuals or suspects,” he told reporters at Government House in Bangkok during his weekly post-cabinet press briefing.
“There must be videotape on hand every time to avoid problems in the future,” he said, as he called on authorities to ensure that closed-circuit TV cameras work during interrogations of suspects.
According to officials, CCTV cameras were not online when army officials questioned Abdullah after they took him into custody in Pattani province on suspicion of insurgent-related activities.
Soon after the interrogation at the Inkayuthaboriharn army camp there, he was found unconscious in a holding cell on July 21, officials said. Abdullah, 34, died on Sunday.
In a statement, Songklanagarind Hospital in southern Songkhla province said Abdullah had died there after suffering from severe pneumonia and septic shock.
Repeating the cause of death as stated by the hospital, Prayuth said Abdullah’s death “could not have stemmed from torture.”
“[We] are ready to give additional information. In fact since it happened, three hospitals – the Inkayuthaboriharn Hospital, Pattani Hospital and Songklanagarind Hospital – reported the same that Abdullah’s body was intact, [with] no traces of assaults, internally or externally,” the prime minister said.
Authorities said they arrested Abdullah on July 20 after an alleged insurgent cell leader had implicated him in several attacks in Pattani, one of the provinces in Thailand’s troubled southern border region. Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in violence in the Deep South, a mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking region, since a separatist insurgency reignited 15 years ago.
Abdullah’s widow, Sumaiyah Minga, told BenarNews on Monday that she was considering filing a law suit because she believed her husband was tortured before he fell into the coma. Abdullah’s body was buried within six hours of his death.
On July 22, a day after Abdullah became comatose, the Thai military said it had established fact-finding committees to investigate whether his human rights were violated while in its custody.
Later in July, the chairman of the Pattani Islamic Committee, who led one of the investigative committees, said initial findings showed no signs of Abdullah being physically assaulted or being involved in an accident.
Swelling to Abdullah’s brain could have been caused by a concussion, an aneurysm or cerebral hypoxia, which could have occurred when he fainted and did not receive CPR immediately, the chairman said.
On Tuesday, Abdul-asib Tadae-ing, who sits on the Committee to Protect Human Rights in the Deep South, said doctors from the hospital had indicated that they had found no signs of torture on Abdullah’s body.
“According to the doctors, the cause of death was severe pneumonia and septic shock, which happened after he had previous hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy,” Abdul-asib said in a statement.
“The oxygen deprivation could mean torture such as suffocation with a bag, water boarding as some people claimed, or simply [that] he fainted out without CPR. The doctors said torture would show traces like hemorrhage in the eyes, swollen gums and dark face, etc., which were not found in the case of Abdullah,” he said.
The committee to which Abdul-asib belongs was appointed by the military’s regional command in the Deep South and includes officials, Muslim clerics and rights advocates.
On Monday, however, international watchdog Human Rights Watch called on the Thai government to conduct a complete investigation into the circumstances leading up to Abdullah’s death, saying it was “an important test case.”
Meanwhile, Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former member of Thailand’s Human Rights Commission, said officials had not accounted for how Abdullah succumbed to a lack of oxygen.
“Though there is no evidence that the officials tortured him, there was no evidence to explain how he had hypoxia either,” she told BenarNews.