An Extraordinary Event of Ordinary People: the Story of the Fund Raising Event for Pondok Jihad

 

Part 1: Chronology 

 
It is not unusual for Patani Malay Muslims to receive a bilingual invitation card printed both in Thai and Malay (in Jawi script) for a fund raising tea party, usually organized by a local mosque, aimed at collecting donations from well-wishers. These events, called ‘makae the’ (drinking tea) in the local Malay dialect, are often held as one of the most effective traditional ways of public fund raising in the community. The money donated might be used, for example, for the construction of a mosque or a religious school for small children called ‘tadika’, or for a big event in a near future.  
 
However, the ‘tea party’ held on 19 March in Tadan Village, Yaring District, Pattani Province for a pondok (traditional religious school) whose land had just been confiscated by the authorities after a court order, was an extraordinary event, for the sheer number of people who attended it (approximately no less than 50,000) and the amount of money gathered on the day (about 3.9 million baht). An event attended by fifty thousand people in a big city is not very big news, but this happened in Patani, whose total population is less than two million. No less than two percent of the local population took part in the event.   
 
It is generally understood that the event was triggered by an order to seize the land of the pondok, issued by the court after the pondok was found guilty of being used as a training ground for militants. The case was filed by the Anti-Money Laundering Office in 2013, and the verdict was delivered on 14 December 2015. The amended Anti-Money Laundering Act enables the state to confiscate any property used for illegal purposes. But this case apparently has some weaknesses. 
 
The ‘evidence’ behind the verdict in the money-laundering case was based on implication. In a raid by security forces in 2005, as many as 36 people related to the pondok, most of them students, were detained for alleged involvement in terrorism. When the raid happened, the headmaster of the pondok at that time, Dolloh Waemano, known as ‘Pok Su Loh’ among the local people, had already left the pondok, and to this day no one knows his whereabouts. In 2013 the court officially declared him a disappeared person. Two of the 36 detainees claimed, while detained at a military base in Pattani Province, that they had been trained by insurgents in the school grounds. During this period, a number of cases of torture during detention were reported by international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It must be noted too that the school sits in the middle of the local community, a highly unsuitable location for the training ground of a secretive insurgent organization. 
 
All charges were later dismissed by the court for insufficient evidence. But the claim by the two suspects was used as ‘evidence’ in the verdict for confiscation, despite the fact that no one was found guilty of anything by the court.  
 
There are a number of local private Islamic schools, some big and famous, whose connection with the insurgents is far clearer than that of Pondok Jihad, as mentioned by Adilan Ali-ishok, a lawyer from the Muslim Attorney Centre, in an article published via the Centre’s blog (http://th.macmuslim.com/?m=201603).  However, no legal action, let alone confiscation of property, has ever been taken against these schools by the authorities, even against one of the biggest schools whose former headmaster is allegedly a spiritual leader of the BRN (Barisan Revolusi Nasional, or the National Revolutionary Front, the biggest armed group in the south). The question remains as to why on earth this pondok in particular was targeted by the authorities, while other pondoks which are more obviously related to the insurgents were left alone. Some local activists said that it was because the pondok was relatively small. If this was the case, their judgement went totally astray. (I shall discuss the importance of the concept of ‘pondok’ in Part two of this article.) 
 
These legal weaknesses were sensitive enough to stir up the sympathy of the local people, and the verdict to confiscate the land itself, when it was delivered on 15 December 2015, was a big shock for the region, because this was the first seizure of land belonging to a pondok in Patani. The news not only surprised the local society, but it also made the pondok’s extraordinary history widely known to the people. 
 
 

The fate of the Pondok Jihad 

 
The piece of land itself was not common property (wakaf), as some misunderstood, but belonged to the five children of the founder, Braheng Che-asae, who established the pondok in 1968, responding to appeals from the local people. One of his pupils explained that the term ‘jihad’ was chosen not with the meaning of physical war, but, according to Braheng’s grandson, of the fight against ‘darkness’, i.e. any behaviour against religious principles which had been prevalent in the region before the school was opened. The local people agreed to donate land to the headmaster as the site of the new school. 
 
But the local ‘influential person’ (in Thailand, this term refers to local mafias) felt uneasy with his struggle, as it went against his interests. Braheng was a vocal social reformer, and he reminded the local people not to take part in any act against religious principles. Eleven years after its establishment, Braheng was shot dead by two volunteer village security guards who were under the sway of this influential person. 
 
After the founder was shot dead, one of his ex-pupils, Dolloh Waemano, who had married one of Braheng’s daughters, was appointed as his successor. During his time, the pondok came under heavy pressure from the authorities on suspicion that the school was connected to the insurgents. His son, Balyan Waemano, witnessed many raids conducted by the security forces almost every time a violent incident happened in the neighbourhood. Dolloh was forced to leave the pondok for fear of being arrested by the authorities, and as was mentioned above, is now officially a disappeared person. 
 
In 2005, the then governor of Pattani Province issued an order to close the school, and the story came to an end. The remaining students began to leave the school one by one, and a number of huts where the students had lived were abandoned, with nobody taking care of them. These huts are significant because the name ‘pondok’ comes from a Malay word which means ‘hut’, but is used to refer to the school itself, as well as the huts.
 
In the same year, less than one month after the order to close the pondok was issued, a son of Dolloh, Ridwan Waemano, who had studied in Indonesia, came back from Indonesia and stayed in Patani City with two of his friends for fear of his safety. But he was shot dead, together with his friends, one of many cases in which no one has ever been arrested for the crime. 
 
Even after the closure of the school, the local people still came to the mosque on the grounds of the school to perform their prayers. But that also stopped after a group of people praying in a mosque in Cho-airong District, Narathiwat Province, were attacked by a group of men wearing black clothes, an incident which left more than 10 of them dead on the spot. Now only the desolated school and abandoned student huts were left.  
 
 

After the verdict 

 
Having gone through such hardships, the family, after the verdict was delivered, decided to move off the land which was to be confiscated. The decision wasn’t made by the Waemano family alone, as the land had been donated for the pondok by the villagers, although the title deeds were held by the five children of the founder. Legally speaking, the land was personal property, but in practice it belonged to the community. All the properties on the land, including the school buildings, the students’ huts and the mosque, were the common property of the village.  Therefore the family consulted with the villagers, many of whom were ex-students of the pondok, before they made the decision. The villagers and ex-students unanimously promised staunch support for the family. All of them agreed that the family should follow the verdict and move off the land. This must be the end of the story, at least from a legal point of view, because the defendant was satisfied with the verdict, and ready to follow the order issued by the court.
 
According to the law, the order must be followed within one month of the verdict, but the court granted another month for the family to move out. On 14 February 2016, the news which was widely shared by the local people on social media was not related to Valentine’s Day, but pictures of the family moving out. Now everyone in Patani knew what had happened to the Waemano family from Pondok Jihad. 
 
After the family left the pondok and moved to a mosque nearby, a coordination centre to provide necessary help to the family was established in the mosque. They were also closely helped by local NGOs sympathetic to the family. Since the first day, they were visited by many local people, including local politicians, religious leaders, NGO activists, researchers, and a lot of ordinary people. Pictures of these visits dominated the social media almost every day. 
 
Having realized the impact of the verdict, the authorities tried to approach the family with offers and suggestions. The family was told by the authorities that they still could live on the land, if they agreed to pay rent of 700 baht per year per rai. The land confiscated was 14 rai, so this amounted to 4,900 baht per year. The offer was turned down by the family, as it was tantamount to an insult to their dignity. 
 
Some local administrators and the security forces encouraged them to appeal the case in the courts. According to Balyan Waemano, who was at that time the centre of Pondok Jihad activity, they moved out of the land to show their respect to the court, i.e. the highest authority of the state in legal affairs. These officers were all from the state, and they were behaving as if they were belittling the authority of the court. One of the lawyers who had dealt with the pondok case said there had never been such an encouragement from the state to appeal. Certainly this was at variance with the principle of the rule of law. The family’s position was consistent: they respected the decision of the court and there was no need to appeal. They were satisfied with the judgement. 
 
When direct approaches didn’t work, the authorities tried to influence a group of people who they thought might be able to influence the Waemano family, the local community and the NGOs. On 26 February, an unprecedented statement was issued in the name of local religious leaders to denounce the activities of the local NGOs which had helped the pondok. In the statement, the religious leaders, including the presidents of the provincial Islamic committees of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, the head of the Patani Ulama Council, the representative of the Sheikh al-Islam of Thailand (Chularachamontri), and the heads of the networks of pondoks and private Islamic schools, recommended that the case should be settled following the state’s suggestion. On top of that, they denounced the local ‘network and organizations’ for instigating sensitive emotions by exploiting the issue of the pondok. They described such actions as distortions of the facts. As far as I can remember, this was the first time that the religious leaders openly denounced local NGOs in the same tone as the military. Though the statement was read by these leaders in the new office of the Pattani Provincial Islamic Committee, the press conference was apparently initiated and organized at the request of the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC), according to the Manager Online website. Whether or not the statement really reflected the real thoughts of the leaders remains a question, but it was clearly in harmony with what might be music to the ears of the military. 
 
It is highly likely that the authorities thought that the problem related to the pondok would surely be solved after the statement. After all, the religious leaders in the region were a group of people who were very highly thought of by local people as their spiritual leaders. They follow what is said by their spiritual leaders, because they also have high authority as religious scholars. 
 
The reaction from the local people who supported or were sympathetic to the pondok, however, was extraordinary. Immediately after the release of the statement, they openly denounced the religious leaders. Somebody doctored a picture of the religious leaders at the press conference. They had worn white robes, but in the retouched picture, these were turned into uniforms of the military, police, and other government officers: a clear indication that the local people were very dissatisfied that these leaders had taken sides. The message might be that if they have to take sides, they must stand with the people. 
 
At the end of February, the plan for a big fund raising tea party on 19 March was finally announced. At the tea party, there would be performances of local culture and a public forum on the issue of the pondok. The local NGOs worked very hard on public relations. A large number of banners were hung on mosques, schools and at junctions. Posts on social media were widely shared, and in a few days the event became known to practically everyone in the region, a development which made the state even less happy. 
 
The state approached the family again, this time to ask them to cancel the event, a request which was declined by the family, because the preparations had been done, and a sudden cancellation might cause great confusion. The state officials then asked, if the entire event could not be cancelled, whether it would be possible to cancel the forum scheduled for the afternoon. The forum, as advertised in the banners and posters, was the main activity of the event, and this suggestion also was not accepted by the family.  
 
On 17 March, only two days before the event, local government officials, including sub-district officers (kamnan), village headmen and religious leaders in the region, such as imams, received an official letter from the district officers, ordering them to attend a ‘peace demonstration’ in Narathiwat Province with their people. This was not strange because the government hospital in Cho-airong District had been invaded by a large group of armed men (allegedly nearly 50), who fired hundreds of bullets in it (though hardly any casualties were reported). This highly controversial attack on a civilian target was picked up by the state as the perfect pretext to organize their own peace event. The peace event, for some reason, also was scheduled on 19 March. Therefore for those who had to attend the event in Narathiwat, it would be quite difficult to attend yet another event in Pattani Province. 40,000 people joined the peace event according to some news reports. 
 
I was told by the organizers of the pondok jihad fund raising that the event continued into the evening, and quite a few people from Narathiwat joined after they had finished their duty there. Those who couldn’t attend the event asked those going to the event to take their donations.  
 
On the day of the event, there was another small problem. The pondok is located in a coastal area with very narrow access roads. Given that tens of thousands of people from all over the conflict area of Patani were coming to attend, all roads to the site were jammed. The situation was worsened when the security forces put up several check points. According to the Facebook page of the Coordination Centre for the Family of Pondok Jihad, some soldiers on these checkpoints told people who wanted to attend the event to go back. In the end, after the event staff came to the checkpoints and explained things to both the security officers and the local people, and there was no big problem. 
 
The event went off peacefully without any serious security problems. It was almost impossible to estimate the exact number of people attending. One of the student leaders who had been engaged in the event since the very initial stage said the organizers prepared ‘khao yam’, a dish of rice and raw vegetables, seasoned with a kind of fish source called ‘budu’, for 50,000 people, and nothing was left when the event was over. However, what we can be sure about is the amount of money gathered that day. The counting of the money itself took a couple of days. Finally the amount was announced: 3,986,668 baht. Note that this came almost entirely from the conflict area of Patani (three provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, added with some adjacent districts of Songkhla District) whose entire population is less than two million. 
 
The question as to why this event succeeded in gathering such a large number of people to make such a big donation will be discussed in Part 2 of this article.