The widow of a suspected Deep South rebel who died over the weekend after falling into a coma while in army custody said she would find a way to sue military officials whom she believes tortured her husband, an allegation that officials deny.
Abdullah Esomuso, 34, was found unconscious in a cell on July 21 after being taken for interrogation at the Inkayuthaboriharn army camp in Pattani province. Authorities said they had arrested Abdullah a day earlier after an alleged insurgent cell leader implicated him in several attacks in Pattani, one of the provinces in Thailand’s troubled southern border region.
His widow, Sumaiyah Minga, said she had consulted with a lawyer to seek justice because she believed that her husband was tortured soon before he fell into the coma.
“I’ve discussed with the president of the Muslim Attorney Center of Pattani how to file a criminal case with the police against suspected officials and proceed with the case,” Sumaiyah told BenarNews on Monday. “I hope to get the case going within a few days. He did not die from a natural cause.”
“I must seek justice for Abdullah who died under official custody. Until now, we didn’t get any true explanation,” she said from her home in Pattani, a day after her husband died and was buried hours later.
Meanwhile in Bangkok, a deputy prime minister denied that military officials had anything to do with Abdullah’s death.
“Officials gave interviews already that the man was hospitalized for a month suffering from infection. Three hospitals also confirmed that he had an infection. Soldiers did not cause his death,” Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters.
Songklanagarind Hospital in southern Songkhla province issued a statement saying that Abdullah died before dawn on Sunday after suffering severe pneumonia and septic shock.
His widow buried Abdullah six hours after his death. She and relatives refused to have a comprehensive autopsy performed because they were skeptical of the government’s handling of his case, according to a cousin.
“Relatives have doubts, are skeptical about the handling of justice,” cousin Mohamadrohmad Mamu told BenarNews.
“Despite having an ISOC-appointed committee to protect human rights in Deep South to help prove the issue, it did not make progress,” he said, using an acronym for the army’s regional security command. “How can we rest assured that the autopsy has integrity and could reveal the truth? We relatives don’t trust it.”
On July 22, the day after Abdullah slipped into a coma, the Thai government announced that the army had established fact-finding committees to investigate, military spokesman Pramote Prom-in said while promising transparency.
“We have established two committees, one to investigate the conduct of the military to determine potential disciplinary or criminal action, and one to investigate possible violations of the protection of human rights in the Deep Southern provinces,” he said at the time, confirming that Abdullah had been interrogated before being put into the cell.
Later that month, Pattani Islamic Committee chairman Waedueramae Mamingji, who led one of the committees, announced initial findings that showed no signs of Abdullah being involved in an accident or being physically assaulted, but he said the investigation would continue.
He said the 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.
Rights watchdog raises concerns
Human Rights Watch (HRW), meanwhile, questioned the government’s progress in the investigations.
“The military-dominated inquiry has been unable to provide even basic information about Abdullah’s treatment at the interrogation center, the cause of oxygen deprivation, and the methods that soldiers used to interrogate him,” HRW said in a news released posted Monday on its website.
“Moreover, ISOC Region 4 claimed that all security cameras installed at the detention facility were not online at the time and could not provide video recordings or any other evidence for the inquiry.”
The international rights group called for a complete investigation into the case.
“The death of Abdullah Esormuso 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 for 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.”
The Thai military has been in charge of security for 15 years in the mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South after a separatist insurgent uprising re-ignited in 2004. About 7,000 people have been killed since then in violence in the region. During that time, rights groups have accused the military of using excessive force in the region, including systematic torture and extrajudicial killings against insurgents.