Justice still sought for Tak Bai deaths

Justice still sought for Tak Bai deaths

17 years on and no one held accountable

Members of the Muslim Students Federation of Thailand in October 2019 gather on a Skywalk in Bangkok’s Pathumwan district to mark the 15th anniversary of the Tak Bai massacre on Oct 25, 2004. Eighty five people suffocated after being arrested and packed into military trucks to be taken to Narathiwat’s Tak Bai district. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Members of the Muslim Students Federation of Thailand in October 2019 gather on a Skywalk in Bangkok’s Pathumwan district to mark the 15th anniversary of the Tak Bai massacre on Oct 25, 2004. Eighty five people suffocated after being arrested and packed into military trucks to be taken to Narathiwat’s Tak Bai district. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Human rights defender Angkhana Neelaphaijit on Monday called for improvements in the country's justice system and for the political willpower to hold to account those responsible for the deaths of more than 80 Muslim protesters in Tak Bai in 2004.

Marking the 17th anniversary of the Tak Bai tragedy, Ms Angkhana said there were three more years before the statute of limitations in this case expired and she hoped that people responsible for the brutal acts would still be brought to trial.

The Tak Bai incident took place on Oct 25, 2004, when 85 Muslim protesters died, mostly from suffocation, while being transported on military trucks.

Before that, some 1,500 Muslim villagers had gathered in front of the Tak Bai district police station in Narathiwat demanding the release of six village defence volunteers arrested in connection with the alleged theft of weapons.

After the protest escalated -- which resulted in security forces killing seven Muslims -- scores of protesters were arrested and then piled up on top of each other in the trucks and transported to the Ingkhayuthaboriharn military camp in Nong Chik district in Pattani province.

Ms Angkhana said that no one has been held accountable for what occurred despite the Surayud Chulanont government offering an apology on behalf of the Thaksin administration and the Yingluck administration giving compensation to victims and their families.

"Seventeen years have passed and we still don't know who the culprits are and who should be held responsible for the deaths, injuries, disabilities and disappearances of people," Ms Angkhana said.

"The families of the victims and the Tak Bai residents filed lawsuits to seek justice but it turned out all the cases were dropped by the prosecutors who were supposed to administer justice," she said.

Another case involved the dispersal of the protesters, which concluded that those responsible for the seven deaths could not be identified. The prosecutors also decided not to pursue the case.

"To mark the 17th anniversary, I urge all parties concerned to review the Thai justice administration system especially when it comes to atrocities to prevent more tragedies," she said. "In this Tak Bai case, we have three years to bring the case to court to have the truth revealed and established, to return justice to the victims."

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