NGOs demand better conditions for detainees in Thailand after Uyghur man’s death

BenarNews staff
2023.02.22
Bangkok
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NGOs demand better conditions for detainees in Thailand after Uyghur man’s death A casket containing the body of Aziz Abdullah, a Uyghur who died after falling gravely ill while in Thai custody, is lowered into the ground during his burial at Haroon Cemetery in Bangkok, Feb. 14, 2023.
Courtesy of the Sheikhul Islam Office

Updated at 2:35 p.m. ET on 2023-02-22

Human rights advocates are calling on Thai immigration authorities to improve conditions for dozens of Uyghurs in custody and safeguard their health after a Uyghur detainee fell gravely ill and died at a police hospital in Bangkok this month. 

Aziz Abdullah, a Uyghur from China, was buried at a cemetery in Bangkok on Feb. 14, a few days after his death. It was caused by infectious pneumonia, according to a death certificate seen by the People’s Empowerment Foundation, a Thai NGO that helps Uyghur immigrants in Thailand.

The NGO’s director blamed Thai authorities for neglecting the man’s health and failing to give him swift medical care after he began to show symptoms of illness in January, such as vomiting and blood coming out of his mouth, while incarcerated at the Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok. 

“The immigration officers have the responsibility to look after people that are ‘in detention’ but when the detainees are sick, the officers must have basic understanding and judgments to take the sick to receive adequate treatments according to the sickness conditions,” Chalida Tajaroensuk said in a statement this week.

“The attitude and judgment of the police IDC involved was shamefully low, [who] do not see the detainees as fully human. It is wished that the immigration [authorities] build a new standard. Detainees should have the right to receive medical treatments.”

Thai immigration officials and police did not immediately respond to multiple BenarNews requests for comment. 

“This death is an entirely predictable outcome of a Thai policy decision to lock away these Uyghurs and, essentially, to throw away the key,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told BBC News.

“Clearly no thought was given to the health implications of indefinite detention in cramped, unsanitary immigration cells with wholly inadequate healthcare and nutrition.”

Aziz Abdullah was a farmer and asylum seeker aged between 34 and 49 years old, according to information from various sources. He had been incarcerated in Thai detention centers for nine years after being caught entering the kingdom without proper papers as he fled from China, according to information from the World Uyghur Congress, a group based in Germany.

“Aziz Abdullah was one of a group of 50 Uyghur detainees, almost all of whom are being held at IDC Suan Phlu. These detainees are part of a larger Uyghur group who arrived in Thailand between 2013 and 2014,” the World Uyghur Congress said in a statement issued on Feb. 17, in which it called on Thailand to investigate his death.

“At the time, more than 350 Uyghur men, women, and children fleeing China were arrested and detained by the Thai authorities. In July 2015, at least 170 women and children were transferred to Turkey. Some weeks later, 109 men and women were deported to China. No further information on their treatment or whereabouts is available.” 

The dozens of remaining Uyghurs who had been held at detention centers across Thailand were mostly transferred to the Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Center in the Thai capital after three Uyghurs escaped from a detention center in central Thailand last July.

“They have been denied access to a lawyer, to UNHCR, and adequate medical care. Such conditions fall below the legal and human rights standards set in Thai law and are life-threatening. Detainees are confined indoors 24 hours a day in overcrowded, unsanitary cells without access to adequate food, physical exercise, or appropriate medical treatment,” World Uyghur Congress said.

On Wednesday, a source at Thailand’s Immigration Bureau confirmed that the Uyghur detainee had died but said that authorities had contacted the leader of the Thai Muslim community to arrange for his immediate burial contrary to complaints from Chalida’s group that they had not arranged for his burial within 24 hours, as per Islamic customs.

“We took good care of him after we found out that he was suffering from an illness,” the source told the Bangkok Post. 

Aziz Abdullah’s son, Muhammad, who lives in Turkey with his mother, told Radio Free Asia, a news service affiliated with BenarNews, that he was separated from his father at 15 when he wasn’t allowed to escape to Turkey with them.

“Since we arrived in Turkey, we could speak to my dad on the phone from time to time. Then, we lost in touch with him for about a year. This time, when we communicated with him two to three months ago, he told us that his condition had worsened,” Muhammad told RFA.

“His condition wasn’t good before either. A month ago, he told us that his situation had dramatically worsened. He told us that he couldn’t sleep well at night. He said after an hour of sleep, he wakes up with a severe cough. Sometimes if he coughs too much, then he vomits blood.”

“We got the news of his death [on Feb. 10].”

The Uyghur people, who live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), are a Muslim minority who have endured persecution and repression by the Chinese government, cases of which have been well documented by human rights groups.

Last August, Michelle Bachelet, the U.N.’s outgoing human rights chief, issued a report concluding that China’s repression of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in XUAR “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

Chinese authorities have allegedly detained up to 1.8 million Muslims and other minorities in internment camps, the U.N. report said. Those detained have been subjected to torture, forced sterilizations, and forced labor, as well as the eradication of their linguistic, cultural and religious traditions.

This story has been updated to include a comment from Aziz Abdullah's son. Nontarat Phaicharoen contributed to this report from Bangkok.

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