Thai police charged a paramilitary volunteer with murder, officials said Thursday, less than a month after a rights group described him as being allegedly involved in “a long list of murders” of ethnic Muslim residents and separatist rebels in the insurgency-wracked Deep South region.
Abdul Hakeem Darase, a militiaman in Yala province, was charged with the murder in May of a village headman’s wife about two weeks after he was detained for questioning under martial law, officials said.
“Police pressed murder charge,” Col. Thiraphot Yindee, chief of the Bannang Sata police station, told BenarNews, referring to Abdul Hakeem.
Thiraphot said Abdul Hakeem was accused of opening fire at a car carrying Arsae Niseng, chief of Bannang Kuwae village, in front of a school in Yala on May 9 this year. Arsae survived his injuries but his wife died and their two daughters also suffered wounds in the attack, Thiraphot said.
“He is currently in jail at Yala provincial court,” Thiraphot said. “Last week, he was denied bail.”
Security officials, citing martial-law powers, took Abdul Hakeem under custody on June 14 after entering his home in the province’s Maung district, claiming they needed to question him about his possession of assault rifles and other military-grade weapons, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
HRW said the arrest “raised hopes that the Thai government was finally getting serious about countless abuses carried out by its security forces” in the restive southern border provinces.
On May 22, almost two weeks after Arsae’s ambush-shooting, 55-year-old Sama-ae Sama, vice chairman of the Tha Thong sub-district administration, was also shot and killed in Yala. Security sources told BenarNews that Abdul Hakeem was also suspected of involvement, but it was not immediately clear why he was not charged in that killing.
The Thai Criminal Code classifies murder, a premeditated killing committed with intent and malice, as a capital punishment, which carries the death penalty or 15-20 years in prison. A person sentenced to death in Thailand cannot apply for probation.
Shadowy Muslim rebels operate in Buddhist-majority Thailand’s southernmost provinces Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, in a decades-old insurgency campaign that has killed almost 7,000 people since it reignited in early 2004, according to rights groups that monitor the region.
Last month, HRW called for Abdul Hakeem’s transfer from military to police custody, saying the move would allow police officials to pursue criminal charges.
“The government should take an important step to break this cycle of violence by ordering the military to transfer Hakeem to police custody for a transparent and impartial criminal investigation and to be prosecuted as the evidence warrants it,” Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher in HRW’s Asia division, said in a statement. “There can be no excuses.”
Sunai said Abdul Hakeem was “allegedly responsible for a long list of murders of ethnic Malay Muslim men and women accused of involvement with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) separatist movement.”
BRN is the largest and most powerful of insurgent groups in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking Deep South region, which borders Malaysia and encompasses the three provinces, as well as four districts in Songkhla province.
Abdul Hakeem’s arrest raised hopes that the Thai government was “finally getting serious about countless abuses carried out by its security services in Thailand’s restive southern border provinces,” Sunai said.
A relative of Abdul Hakeem expressed surprise after hearing about the murder charge.
“It is unbelievable he was eventually charged because I heard officials want to keep the case quiet,” the relative, who requested anonymity, told BenarNews. “I don’t know how the case would end, but the officials would handle it accordingly.”