BANGKOK — A former human rights commissioner on Monday urged police to explain a police letter requesting an unnamed university to count and monitor Muslim students at its campus.
Former National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit said the police risk breaching the constitution by ordering the surveillance of a particular religious group. However, a police spokesman described the request, made by the Special Branch Police, as a routine practice in intel gathering.
“I don’t know what the Special Branch is thinking,” Angkhana wrote online. “Rights to religious freedom are protected both by the constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
After spending over an hour verifying the document, police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen confirmed the letter was indeed issued by the police’s intelligence-gathering department.
“There was no agenda,” Col. Krissana said in a written statement. “It was part of a routine effort to build our intelligence database.”
He also said Police Commissioner Chakthip Chaijinda has instructed the officers responsible for the task to be mindful of human rights and constitutional boundaries.
The partially censored letter was posted to Facebook on Monday by Angkhana. The letter, dated Sep. 9, was addressed to the president of an unidentified university.
It requests that the university disclose the number of Muslim students, divide them by sect, identify whether there are Muslim associations at the campus, and their purposes. The university must also inform the police of club leaders.
“The Special Branch has the duty to gather news related to national security,” part of the letter said.
The letter was signed by the university president in confirmation that they are acting according to the request. The unnamed president said the vice rector for students affair has been told to supply the information by Sep. 20.
In a reply to online messages, Angkhana said she doesn’t know which university the alleged letter was sent to, as she received it from a private source. Krissana’s statement did not mention the university name’s either.
Muslims make up about six percent of Thailand’s population. Although open sectarian conflict has been relatively rare, Thai security officers have been battling separatist insurgency in the Muslim-majority southern border region for 15 years.
The conflict has claimed at least 7,000 lives, including Buddhist monks and Muslim clerics, according to a figure by Deep South Watch.