Five Years after Blasts in Southern Thailand, Few Have Faced Justice

Mariyam Ahmad
Pattani, Thailand
2021-08-11
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Five Years after Blasts in Southern Thailand, Few Have Faced Justice Rescue workers assist a person who was injured when a bomb exploded at a market in Trang province, Thailand, Aug. 11, 2016.
BenarNews

Five years after bombings killed four people and injured more than 30 in tourist hotspots in southern Thailand, authorities have arrested only three of 11 suspects from the insurgency-stricken Deep South in connection with the attacks, and convicted only one, sources told BenarNews.

A lawyer representing the suspects said one of the three men arrested had served his sentence, another was acquitted in May and a third is scheduled to return to court in September.

“[T]he spread of COVID-19 caused postponements beginning last year,” Sitthipong Chantawiroj, a lawyer with the Muslim Attorney Center Foundation, told BenarNews on Wednesday.

“Normally any security-related cases go at a fast pace with clear hearing dates.”

Eleven suspects allegedly coordinated bombings in seven provinces in upper southern Thailand on Aug. 11 and 12 in 2016, included two in Hua Hin, home to the summer palace of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

One day earlier, police defused two bombs found at markets in Phuket.

In September 2016, a member of Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) – the largest armed separatist group in the southern border region – claimed to BenarNews that his combat unit had carried out the attacks on Aug. 11 and 12 outside the confines of the Deep South.

The BRN has been involved in peace talks with the Thai government since early 2020.

Officials, meanwhile, said the bombs – which were hidden in plant pots and detonated by mobile phones – were similar to ones found in the Deep South, which comprises Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala provinces, and four districts of neighboring Songkhla.

Authorities also tracked suspects through surveillance cameras before determining that all involved were from the Deep South.

Since the decades-old separatist insurgency reignited in January 2004, more than 7,000 people have been killed in the border region, according to Deep South Watch, a Pattani think-tank.

‘We had some hope so we fought’

Lawyer Sitthipong said three suspects were arrested and faced trial in a military court in 2016 but saw those cases transferred to civilian court in July 2019.

Muhammad Muhi, a native of Pattani, confessed to planting two bombs in Phuket and has completed his sentence, the lawyer said.

A second suspect, Abdulkadir Salae, a native of Pattani who was charged with possessing a weapon of war, causing an explosion and arson, was acquitted by a criminal court in Trang in May, but prosecutors are likely to appeal the case, Sitthipong said.

Abdulkadir’s wife, who asked not to be named over privacy concerns, said her husband had earlier struggled to convince a military court of his innocence. 

“We presented evidence showing he was innocent, but the court still indicted him, we’re not sure if they looked at the evidence at all,” she told BenarNews.

“We had some hope so we fought.”

The third suspect, Abdulstopa Sulong, who is being held in a jail in Phuket, is scheduled to return to court in September when the prosecution presents its case following delays linked to the pandemic, Sitthipong said.

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A Thai police officer stands guard near the site of a bomb explosion in Hua Hin, Aug. 12, 2016. [AFP]

A rights group leader said the court proceedings have taken too long, causing hardships for the suspects’ families.

“The case went to military courts during the early days while in fact civilians should not be tried there,” Anchana Heemmina, president of the Hearty Support Group, told BenarNews.

“The defendants’ families had trouble traveling to the court, so there was no easy access to justice.”

Anchana was sued by the military in May 2016 over allegations she accused soldiers of torturing suspected Deep South insurgents during an interrogation at a compound in Pattani. The military dropped that case in March 2017.

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