Opinion: In Thailand, It’s Guilty Until Proven Innocent – After Death

Abdulloh Esomuso seen on a hospital bed shortly before his death.

Any justice-loving society would be outraged if a citizen was found unconscious while in military custody, before dying in hospital. But not in Thailand apparently, and particularly if that citizen is suspected of being a Malay-Muslim separatist insurgent.

Such was the fate of 34-year-old Abdulloh Esormusor, who died earlier this week on Sunday after spending a day under military custody. He had been taken to hospital unconscious, only to spend a month lying comatose until his death.

Though authorities have denied the involvement of torture, there were conveniently no CCTV records of his final hours as a conscious man. He spent his last hours detained in the deep south, a region that was once a proud and independent Islamic kingdom before being swallowed up as a part of today’s Thailand.

Innocent until proven guilty should be the rule in any justice-loving society. But a different story played in Thailand out this week.

There has been no independent investigation into Abdulloh’s death as of press time. By Tuesday, a key member of the National Human Rights Commission’s sub-committee overseeing the deep south, Anchana Heemmina, had resigned, citing her inability to work due to “limitations in accessing information”.

The family of the deceased has told the media they don’t trust the government to carry out an autopsy.

To add insult to injury, the family’s call for monetary compensation was met by Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan’s insistence on Wednesday that Abdulloh first be proven innocent.

Can a dead man talk? Can a dead man defend himself? Was Abdulloh not already innocent until proven guilty?

These questions may outrage some readers but other Thais don’t really care.

More news and attention over the past week went to the death of baby dugong Marium. “Can a dugong set a bomb?” replied Twitter user @FirefoxChorme to my observation that Marium’s death on Aug. 17 gathered more sympathy than Abdulloh’s.

Ironically, more clarity surrounds the conditions which led to Marium’s death (the ingesting of plastic waste) than that of Abdulloh’s.

It’s good that there’s a national outcry about Marium’s death, but we need a national outcry about Abdulloh’s death as well. We need demands for justice so deaths in custody don’t ‘mysteriously’ occur again.

For years, suspects in the deep south have been almost automatically demonized. They are often regarded by many Thais as guilty until proven otherwise. It’s no mystery why violence in the deep south is unlikely to end any time soon.