Tak Bai 12 Years Later: Unhealed Wounds, Justice Denied

 

Every year during the month of Ramadan, large crowds of people pass near the border crossing at Tak Bai, going to market to purchase food for the evening meal that breaks the daily fast and crossing the Taba checkpoint into Malaysia to purchase new clothes in preparation for Hari Raya, celebrating the end of Ramadan.

Yaena Salaemae in front of the Tak Bai police station, site of the Tak Bai incident

As the sun rose on October 25, 2004, the 12th day of the Ramadan fast, the people of Tak Bai District began their normal routines. But this day was to be different. In the morning, a group gathered in a demonstration calling for justice for six Village Security Team members who had been detained. A large number of people who lived nearby went to watch the demonstration, and when those farther away heard what was happening many came in cars and trucks to watch. They had no idea that the events of the day would change their lives forever.

In spite of compensation payments, every day, every home, every family continues without justice being done.

 

Yaena Salaemae: Her son detained and charged, her husband murdered 

 

Yaena Salaemae at the site of the Tak Bai incident

A resident of Badomati Village in Tak Bai District, about 12 km from the police station, Ms Yaena was sewing at home when people began to talk about a demonstration near the border crossing at Tak Bai. Yaena and her son, Muhammad Maruwasi Malong went to see what was happening. After arriving at the site, they were unable to leave: “I was sewing, about nine in the morning, when I heard about the demonstration and went just to have a look. My son and daughter went too. We just wanted to see what was going on, but then were not able to leave. The leaders of the demonstration said we couldn’t leave. Many more people drifted in as the day wore on, with only one pathway in and out. Officials came and barricaded the path so there was really no way out.” 

At the demonstration, the men were gathered at the front, women behind, at the children’s playground near the river, separating Yaena from her son.

“The officials said that they would let us go home at three in the afternoon, but at three they began shooting bullets. And tear gas. They shot into the air and close to crowd. Some people fled into the river” Yaena reports.

Once everyone was lying down and the smoke from the violence had cleared, officials separated the women and sent them home. Those who were injured were sent to hospital. The men were ordered to remove their shirts and their hands were tied behind their backs. They were thrown onto the back of trucks, piled on top of one another like logs.

“I went home without my son. My eldest son coordinated with the lawyer. I went to Ingkhayut Army Base, but was not allowed to see the prisoners. They didn’t let me past the gate. The demonstration was on Monday, Tuesday we didn’t know whether my boy was alive or dead. Wednesday, he called home and we asked about the sons of other families that we knew, putting together a list of those who were still alive. A week after being detained he was released on bail but some were held for as long as 45 days. Only after he was released did we learn that he was piled on the truck bed in the second layer of bodies, and that the soldiers walked on top of them and beat them. He didn’t eat or drink for two days.”

Though her son was bound and thrown on the truck in a human woodpile, he was fortunately not injured. Unfortunately, he was accused as a leader of the violence and charges were pursued against him along with 57 others for no known reason.

Her son was required to report to the court weekly and other villagers were impacted in various ways. The sons of some were killed. Some were injured. Yaena contacted journalists, human rights activists and members of NGOs, notably, Soraya Jamjuree, Angkhana Neelapaijit and Pechdau Tohmeena, gaining an understanding of the judicial process and of the necessity of calling for compensation. From that time, though she has only a fourth-grade education, Yaena has never ceased to call for justice for those who were impacted by the violence.

“I talked with the others. At the time, no one could accept what had happened. They were hurting and angry. They wanted revenge and to fight. I tried to dissuade them from anger and revenge. From retaliation. I said we were wronged, but tried to make them understand, tried to make the others understand the officials. I said that this is a test from Allah. But some said that a test like this was no good. It’s unacceptable.”

After fighting the case for nearly two years, the government of Prime Minister Gen Surayud Chulanont issued an apology for the Tak Bai and Krue Se incidents and withdrew all charges. But that was only after two years in court. Yaena’s son and 59 others who were unjustly charged each received 30,000 baht in compensation.

“The inquiry into the deaths concluded that they suffocated. True enough. But the people are not satisfied; they want to know, they want the court to tell them why they suffocated.”

Yaena says that when people got the compensation and agreed not to sue the state, most were more or less satisfied and too worn out to press the case further. “I could do no more because the people wouldn’t fight further. They felt they couldn’t because that would mean going back to court for a few more years and they didn’t want trouble from the military.”

Yaena’s untiring, unceasing calls for justice attracted official suspicion that she was supporting juwae (the Patani freedom fighters). She came under constant surveillance and was twice invited to the military base under the Emergency Decree. “But I didn’t go. I didn’t even know who or what juwae was. I only went to school through grade four and I haven’t studied at a pondok (traditional boarding school teaching Islam).

“Since that time the police and soldiers surrounded and searched our house on a regular basis. In the first ten years, groups of them came over ten times. As the anniversary of the incident approached, the soldiers would come and search like they were trying to intimidate me, in order to prevent any [political] activity. Whenever anything happened close by they would also surround and search the house. The most extreme was in 2014 when they said there was an outlaw at my house and a hundred of them searched our home. But they haven’t come for the last two years.”

But that was not her hardest test. In 2007 Yaena’s husband, Mayuso Malong was shot dead at a roadside teashop. Witnesses, evidence and the reports of bystanders indicated that the killer was a member of the Volunteer Guards, affiliated with the military, with the purpose of ending the movement for justice through intimidation. However, the level of fear was such that no one dared come forward as a witness and no one was convicted. 

“Allah doesn’t want me to fear. I help the people. I don’t know whether or not that earns merit, but my husband’s life has already been sacrificed. My children say I’ve done enough, but I ask them if I don’t continue, who will the people depend on? I won’t stop. I ask Allah for the blessing of a long life so that I can care for my children in place of their father. And that takes away my fear of the officers. When my husband died, the soldiers came to the house and I told them that the killer was wearing a military uniform. But they said that outlaws can dress like that too.” Even though her husband was not well known because he didn’t mingle much, the townspeople came to the home every day for 40 days to show their sorrow. 

 

Hayiding Maiseng: Bullet in the back, through the chest 

 

Hayiding Maiseng reports that soldiers “visited” him at home so often he became used to it.

Sixty year old Hayiding Maiseng was 47 at the time of the incident. He wasn’t interested in going to the demonstration that morning but passed through the area on his way to buy food for iftar, the evening meal to end the fast. “I wasn’t going to the demonstration but passed by on my way to Taba to buy food for iftar. I wondered why so many people were gathered there and went to see what was going on. That was about 11 in the morning. But after going in I couldn’t get back out. There was a checkpoint blocking the exit. About three in the afternoon shots were fired toward the demonstrators. People ducked and I ran for shelter behind the blocks where they were planting trees, but was hit. I regained consciousness the next morning in Pattani Hospital.

“I don’t know why I was sent so far away, all the way to the hospital in Pattani. Maybe because they wanted me to die. But I didn’t die. There were seven others who had been wounded at the same hospital. They had all been shot. Our relatives tried to visit, but were not allowed to visit for about three days. The soldiers didn’t let us go anywhere. Afterwards, I was investigated continuously. When I finally had visitors, I learned that many from my village had died.”

Bullet scar on Hayiding Maiseng’s back. The bullet exited his chest.

After his wounds had healed, Hayiding went to work in Malaysia for three months. During that period soldiers came to his house many times, nearly every day, it could be said. Immediately after he got back home, they drove up with three armoured vehicles to his house. “When they arrived I offered them coconut milk and cool water as a way of building friendship with the soldiers. They came so often that we came not to fear them.”

Although he is more or less satisfied with his 500,000 baht compensation, justice has not been done: “Before, I wanted the military to be punished, but now, I don’t know what I can do.”

 

Mueyae So: Grieving mother whose son died in great pain

 

A 56 year old housewife, Mueyae So lost her eldest child, still quite a young man. 

Beginning in the morning, villagers who had passed the Tak Bai border crossing and returned home told others that a great number of people had gathered for some unknown reason near the crossing. She had her son go and see what was happening, and in a little while followed other villagers to have a look. But having gone into the area of the demonstration she was unable to leave. At three in the afternoon the demonstrators were dispersed with water cannon and bullets. Like Yaena, Mueyae was with the women in the back. She ducked down into the river to escape the bullets and became completely soaked and dishevelled.

Mueyae So grieves for her son every Month of Ramadan

Once the officials gained control of the situation, they called the women to come up out of the water and had the men sit in front of the police station. Concerned for her son Mueyae tried to look for her son, but wherever she looked she could not see him. Towards sundown the soldiers took her home.

“I thought my son had just been detained but that he would be safe. I thought that having detained him they’d take care of him. I wasn’t really worried. In the morning the villagers began saying that people had died in the military camp, but I didn’t know that my boy had died. His father and nearly the whole town, including the village head went to look for him but didn’t find him and returned home. On the third day they went to the intersection where the names of those who had died had been posted and someone saw my son’s name. 

“We went to identify bodies at the army base. At first I couldn’t recognize him because the bodies were all discolored. Finally I knew which body was my son’s by a mark on his wrist and his red towel. There were three bodies from our village and we brought them back home together. I didn’t how he died. There were no bullet holes, but the body was black and blue and bloated.

“I couldn’t explain it. I only knew that the state did this and feared for my family. Feared that my other two sons would be harmed or killed too. I felt rage and wanted revenge and wondered how we could coexist with the state this way.”

She reports that soldiers came to her home so many times she can’t count. They asked questions like, “How many people are here?”, “Who is here?” They often asked whether someone else had come to stay with them and who she was hiding. Often soldiers just walked past the house and she felt afraid and understood them to be trying to intimidate her.

The family received 7.5 million baht in compensation, but it is not over for her. The death of her eldest son continuously weighs on her heart. “I understand that death is final. That he won’t come back. But for me it is not over. The court ruled that he died of suffocation. I’m not satisfied. Why did he suffocate? If they hadn’t been piled on top of one another like that he shouldn’t have died. Even more, their hands were tied and soldiers stood on top of them too. 

“I want a new ruling, to revive the case. But I can’t fight. I’m just an ordinary villager. If I tried to fight nothing would change.”

Mueyae says that over the last 12 years it’s been mental torture whenever the Month of Ramadan comes around. She can’t stop thinking of her son. She avoids images of the Tak Bai incident on the internet and the news because they make her think of her dead son and grieve. She also avoids going near the site. 

 

Maliki Dolo’s left leg 

 

Though the Tak Bai incident left him disabled, Maliki Dolo smiled throughout the interview, because, he says, he has to live with it and live his life.

 

That morning, 28 year old Maliki Dolo had no inkling that his strong youthful body would be disabled, that he would never again be able to work or even to take care of himself.

“That morning, about nine-thirty, I went to the border crossing. I was going to buy new clothes for Hari Raya. I saw a large group of people and went to have a look. I didn’t think it would be like this.

“After just a little while I tried to leave, but couldn’t. They had closed off the way in and out. I didn’t know what to do so I went to wait by the river and looked at the fish. Whatever. When they broke up the demonstration my forehead was cut open by a rock from a slingshot. I went down to the water to wash the cut but a smoke grenade was fired and I closed my eyes and crouched down. I stayed down for a long time and when I wanted to get up they wouldn’t let me. The soldiers said anybody that gets up will be shot. They were shooting into the crowd. I turned my head and saw a person next to me hit in the face and go silent.”

When the soldiers had taken control of the situation, they ordered the men to remove their shirts. They tied their hands behind their backs and ordered them to lie down and keep their heads down. 

“The soldiers ordered us to get onto the truck bed, but with our hands tied we couldn’t get up on the truck so they took us one at a time and threw us onto the truck like blocks of ice.”

The demonstrators were thrown onto the truck beds in tangled layers. The soldiers’ GMC was too narrow for them to lie at full length and Maliki says that his legs had to be drawn up the whole time from Tak Bai to the Ingkhayutthborihan Army Base. The 150 km trip took over six hours.

“During the trip, I heard someone below me breathing loudly, like there was water in his nose and I figured it was blood. I had heard it from the time we were first thrown onto the truck. Some were groaning loudly and the soldiers standing on top of us said that if the moaning didn’t stop they’d stop the truck. I tried to release air for him, but after a moment I didn’t hear his breathing anymore. Someone above said, “I can’t take this,” then was silent.

“ I felt ... On the truck I was hot, in pain, exhausted, couldn’t breathe. If I started crying I wouldn’t be able to stop. I just thought, I’m not going to cry; I’ll just bear it and think of nothing but Allah.”  

As a result of the long period stacked on the truck bed with others piled on top, Maliki is unable to stretch out his fingers and he has only minimal use of his hands. Simply eating, he says, the spoon slips from his fingers, making him recall the Tak Bai incident at every meal.

“At some point, I lost consciousness. I don’t know when. I came to 21 days later in Songkhla Nakharin Hospital in Hat Yai. I woke up to discover my leg had been amputated.”

The doctor amputated the leg because the muscles had died and decayed as a result of long-term pressure. They then cut decaying flesh from both arms, leaving him unable to manipulate his fingers normally. Much of the remaining muscle is paralyzed, including the knee of his remaining left leg and the muscles for stretching out his hands. He has no feeling on the back of the hands and he can barely move his fingers. There is no strength in his right hand so that he cannot use it. He can move his left hand only a little.

Beyond that, he suffers from kidney disease as a result of not being able to break his fast that day and lack of water. Lack of water for an extended period creates a sodium imbalance in the kidneys and many dialysis treatments are required before the kidneys return to normal. Many of the demonstrators that day also developed kidney disease.

Maliki was unable to continue at vocational school and is unable to work. He helps his mother every day now, planting small vegetables, and depends on his mother’s daily care.

The 2.5 million baht in compensation he received helped somewhat and he purchased a four-wheeled motorcycle with which he can travel on his own.

Maliki spends part of the reparation money to buy a big bike.

Asked whether he had received justice, he smiles and answers with a laugh, “I can’t really answer. I want them punished. But I can’t do anything about it.”

He says that he will never forget what happened: “How could I forget? That was the worst event of my life and every day when I eat, if the food is greasy and just a tiny bit of grease gets on the spoon, I can’t hold onto it.”

Since the incident, he has only gone near the police station once, to go to Tak Bai Hospital to make his compensation claim. Other than that he tries not to go near there, though sometimes a vehicle he is traveling in goes past.

Maliki smiled throughout his interview with Prachatai. He explained, “I have to smile. I have to continue my life and have to smile. If I become depressed, I’ll just stay depressed.”

 
Tak Bai Factbox
 
On the morning of 25 October 2004, the 12th day of Ramadan AH 1425, a number of local people gathered in a demonstration in front of the Tak Bai police station calling for justice for six Village Security Team members who had been arrested. This is not far from a market and the Taba border crossing, and the area is crowded with people going to shop, especially during Ramadan. As time passed, more and more people, nearly a thousand, joined the demonstration. Many had not intended to demonstrate, but just came to see what was happening. Some were passing by going to the market or elsewhere, but once they had gone in to take a look they were unable to leave.
 
At about three in the afternoon soldiers began to break up the demonstration and the leaders dispersed, joining the demonstrators. The soldiers fired bullets straight into the crowd and fired tear gas. Once they had gained control of the situation, the soldiers had the men remove their shirts and lie prone while they tied their hands behind their backs. They sent the women home.
 
Over 1,300 demonstrators were detained and piled in four or five layers in the backs of 25 military trucks and a number of police and rented trucks. Many were weak and exhausted because they were observing the Ramadan daily fast and had been in the hot sun all day.
 
They were transported in that condition over 150 kilometres, taking five to six hours from Tak Bai police station to the Ingkhayuttha Borihan Military Base in Pattani Province. Reports are that when the first vehicle arrived about dusk, it was found that some prisoners had died, but no warning was relayed to the vehicles that were still on the road. The last vehicle arrived at about 2.00 am
 
In all 85 persons died, 78 while being transported to the military base, six at the demonstration and one in hospital.
 
There were three court cases connected with the incident.
 
In 2009 a court in Songkhla ruled that the investigation showed that the 78 who died in transit died of “suffocation” while under the oversight of officials carrying out their official duties.
 
In 2005, 59 of the demonstrators were charged in the Narathiwat Court with unlawful assembly of more than 10 persons and doing forcible harm and threatening harm. The prosecution withdrew the charges in 2006.
 
In 2005 the families of those who had been injured or had died sued the Army for monetary compensation. A compromise was reached under which all other charges against the defendants would be withdrawn and the Ministry of Defence would be ordered to make payments of 42 million baht in compensation to the families of 79 fatalities. 
 
Later, during Pol Col Tawee Sodsong’s tenure as Secretary-General of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) compensation for victims was increased, with payment for fatalities increased to 7.5 million baht each and 500,000 baht awarded to each of the injured.

 

The story was written in Thai and available on Prachatai here. English translation provided by the Project for a Social Democracy.

 

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