A Thai military official said Monday that authorities were investigating to determine how a suspected Deep South rebel fell into a coma while in army custody over the weekend, while the detainee’s wife questioned whether interrogators had tortured him.
Abdullah Esomuso, 34, was found unconscious on Sunday after being brought for interrogation at the Inkayuthaboriharn army camp in Pattani province, the largest military installation in Thailand’s southern border region. Authorities said Abdullah was arrested a day earlier after being implicated by an alleged insurgent cell leader who claimed that he had colluded in several attacks in Pattani.
Army spokesman Pramote Prom-in said representatives from human rights groups could observe the investigation while it was under way to make sure it was transparent.
“From a preliminary examination, we found that authorities had strictly followed protocols. We have not yet found any evidence to indicate it was the action of any authority,” Pramote said.
He said doctors examining Abdullah found no traces of bruising on his body, adding that he suffered severe brain swelling from a lack of oxygen. Abdullah remains hospitalized in another province in the Deep South.
Despite the preliminary report, Pramote said that if a crime was committed by those involved in arresting and interrogating Abdullah, “they will face severe punishment.”
Sumaiyah Minga said she believed her husband was tortured or beaten during interrogation.
“I have lodged a complaint with police,” she said. “I don’t believe the brain swelling is a natural cause.”
Amnesty International (AI) Thailand called for the National Human Rights Commission to conduct an independent investigation into the incident.
“If any involvement of authorities if found, the trial should be carried by the civilian court, not a milltary court,” AI Thailand director Piyanut Kotesarn said.
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 Deep South, including systematic torture and extrajudicial killings against insurgents.
MARA Patani spokesman Abu Hafiz Al-Hakim said the brain swelling could have been caused by torture by suffocation or water intoxication, adding the Thai government must clearly answer if there was such torture and if so, who was responsible.
MARA Patani is an umbrella organization of Deep South insurgents groups and factions involved in peace talks brokered by neighboring Malaysia since 2015.
Meanwhile in Yala, another province in the Deep South, four members of a security patrol were injured Monday by an explosion from a remotely detonated bomb.
A container stuffed with explosives believed to weigh about 40 kg (88 pounds) had been hidden beneath a road. The bomb went off when the team’s truck passed by, leaving a crater in the road. Authorities said none of the injuries were life-threatening.
In the past month, bomb attacks have killed one and injured at least 22 in the region.