Deep South activists intimidated over alleged pro-separatist t-shirts

Activists and journalists in the Deep South of Thailand have been intimidated for producing t-shirts allegedly supporting the separatist movement. A Deep South activist said that Thai authorities misunderstood the t-shirts because they do not know the Jawi language.
 
In the last few days, social media has been flooded with pictures of five people wearing white t-shirts printed with a map of Thailand’s Deep South and the message “TANAH PERKASA MELAYU UTARA.” According to Isranews Agency, the message means “the Melayu Kingdom over the Greatest Land.” Most people on social media believed that the t-shirts were part of a campaign to promote independence for the Deep South.  
 

The t-shirt with a map of the Deep South in Thailand (source: Muhammad Rusdy Sheikh Haroon’s Facebook)

On Friday, 8 July 2016, Nantharawut Mueangsuk, a media person in the Deep South, posted on his Facebook page that the t-shirts actually aim to promote tadika schools, Muslim religious schools for children in the Deep South. The t-shirts were produced by the Bunga Raya group, a civil society education group, which has no involvement with the separatist movement, Manager Online reported.   

The picture of five people wearing the controversial t-shirt (source: BBC Thai)

However, the trend on social media has already frustrated Thai security personnel. Col Pramote Promin, spokesperson for Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4, said that the army was already aware of the issue and knew all people in the picture. The military will investigate whether the t-shirts breach the law or not. If so, the people involved will be prosecuted, Isranews Agency reported on 7 July 2016.

Following the spokesperson’s announcement, Sharif Saii, a journalist from InSouth Voice, an online media source in the Deep South, posted on his Facebook page that in the late evening of 7 July, about 7 rangers came to his home in Pattani but he was not in. The authorities then called him and said that they want to meet him within a couple of days because of the ‘trend on social media’.
 

The rangers visit Sharif's house (source: Sharif's Facebook account)

Sharif revealed to Prachatai that the authorities wanted to see him since he was in the controversial photo. He was very surprised after being informed that it was due to the t-shirt as it has no message related to the separatist movement at all. The Jawi writing on the map was just the names of tadika coordination centres in the different provinces of the Deep South.
 
“They [the authorities] did not tell me anything, just saying that they wanted to meet me because of an issue on social media,” Sharif told Prachatai. “What I’m concerned the most is my family. They are frightened from the incident since the authorities have never visited my home before. They’re worried that something bad will happen to me.”
 
As well as Sharif, Hassan Yamabudi, the Chair of the Bunga Raya group, was also intimidated by Thai authorities. He told Prachatai that the authorities came to his home on the afternoon of 8 July but he was not there.  The authorities asked his relatives about his current address and workplace and said that they wanted to meet him within a couple of days. He also added that the authorities have already visited the homes of all five people in the controversial photo.
 
Hassan also said that if the authorities knew Jawi, they would realize that the t-shirts only aim to promote tadika education in the Deep South without any involvement with the separatist movement, adding that his group has produced such t-shirts since 2007 and the message on the t-shirt has never changed.
 
“I hoped that the authorities would give us a chance to clarify things so they could understand that we have nothing to do with the separatist movement, but they used their own interpretation and threw a shadow of over us without talking,” Hassan said. “This is not what the state should do. This is immature.”
 
Hassan also added that the translation of the term “TANAH PERKASA MELAYU UTARA” presented in the media is incorrect. The actual translation should be “The Working Area of Tadika Schools in Northern Melayu.”
 
However, Chaiwat Meesanthan, a Malay expert from Thammasat University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts, told Prachatai that the literal translation of the term ‘Tanah Persaka Melayu Utara’ is ‘the Mighty Land of Northern Melayu.’ He said that the term ‘Tanah Melayu Utara’ definitely means ‘the Land of Northern Melayu’ but the problematic term here is ‘Persaka.’

“Persaka basically means ‘physically mighty’, However, this word has a positive meaning so it is also widely used to refer to the might and solidarity of organizations, culture, and language. Various organizations in Malaysia also use this word to refer to themselves,” Chaiwat told Prachatai.

Chaiwat accepted that the term itself can make Thai authorities misunderstood and connect the t-shirts to the separatist movement. However, if the authorities looked into the details, they would immediately understand that the t-shirts have nothing to do with the separatist movement even though they do not know the Malay language.

“The map on the t-shirts includes Satun and Songkhla provinces which are not the main targets of the separatist movement. Thai authorities should realize this or they should recheck their information before making a false public statement,” said Chaiwat.