A court in southern Thailand will hold hearings in November and December into the cause of death of a suspected insurgent who fell into a coma and died after being taken into military custody last year, his relatives and their lawyer said Monday.
They said as many as 30 witnesses would be called to testify at the court in Songklha province about whether Abdullah Esomuso died of natural causes or any injuries linked to his detention in Pattani province.
“I felt very excited and scared today. It was my first court appearance and I did not know how to behave,” his widow, Sumaiyah Minga, told BenarNews by phone. “The court just discussed with us to prepare for the inquiry and examined the case files. It will hold inquiries in November and December.”
On Monday, she and other members of Abdullah’s family, as well as neighbors and a team of lawyers traveled 130 km (80 miles) from Pattani to Songkhla Court.
Abdullah, 34, was found unconscious at 3 a.m. July 21, 2019, in an interrogation center at Fort Inkayuthaboriharn, an army camp in Pattani, after being held there for 10 hours, prompting questions about whether military interrogators had tortured him.
A suspected leader of an insurgent cell had implicated him in a series of attacks by rebels, according to officials. Officials, including the prime minister, have denied that Abdullah was tortured.
Sumaiyah and other survivors said they had filed a criminal complaint with police in Nong Chik, the district where the camp is located, against any officials who could have been responsible for Abdullah’s death.
Preeda Nakpew, a lawyer with Cross Culture Foundation who is representing Sumaiyah, said about 30 witnesses will be questioned between Nov. 24 and 26 and Dec. 15 and 18. The foundation is a Bangkok-based human rights group.
“The public prosecutors, the widow and the family lawyers will squeeze the truth from witnesses and cross check the evidence to determine how the military personnel treated Abdullah from when he was arrested, how he was interrogated in the camp and how he was hospitalized,” Preeda told BenarNews.
“We aim to find the real truth of how he went into coma in Fort Inkayuthaboriharn and later died at the hospital,” Preeda said. “The lawyers’ team will also cross check the results of an investigation by the Committee to Protect Human Rights in the Deep South, which was set up by the ISOC 4.”
Abdullah’s cousin, Muhammad Nomud Mamud, who accompanied Sumaiyah to court on Monday, said he had little hope that their efforts would be effective.
“We want to find the wrongdoers and bring them to justice. But in reality, even though we can bring them to court, it is difficult to see government officials being convicted,” Muhammad told BenarNews.
Abdullah died on Aug. 25, 2019, more than a month after his July 20 arrest.
Committee to Protect Human Rights in the Deep South, a military-backed body, found “the cause of death was severe pneumonia and septic shock, which happened after he had suffered from hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (oxygen deprivation to the brain),” committee member Abdul-asib Tadae-ing said at the time.
The committee reported finding no traces of physical torture.
In addition, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who is a former army chief of staff, denied that Abdullah had been tortured.
“The government says all along it does not have a policy to use violence on suspected individuals or suspects. There must be videotape on hand every time to avoid problems in the future,” he said at the time as he called on authorities to ensure that closed-circuit TV cameras worked during interrogations.
The day after Abdullah died, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the government to conduct an independent and credible investigation.
“The death of Abdullah Esomuso is an important test case for the Thai government on whether it is willing to address rights violations in military detention,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “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.”
Abdullah was in a “healthy condition” but stressed out during his detention and allowed to rest in the center, said Col. Pramote Prom-in, spokesman for Internal Security Operations Command-4 (ISOC-4) – the military command in Thailand’s heavily militarized southern border region – citing a note from an arresting police officer.
More than 7,000 people have died in violence across Pattani and other provinces and districts that make up Thailand’s mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region since a separatist insurgency reignited in 2004.