The independence referendum in Scotland is going to take place in two weeks. The main issues which have been avoided for so long, such as inequality, austerity, corruption, the greed of bankers and the welfare attacks, have been discussed in the nationwide forums.
What about Thailand? Why cannot the people of Patani have the same kind of referendum? They have been demanding independence or at least some form of real autonomy for over a century. People should have the right to choose their destiny and govern themselves. However autonomy or independence is a dirty word for the Thai ruling class.
The conflict in Patani dates back to the late 19th century. The violence in Patani is caused by the process of Thai nation building and the subsequent colonisation of ethnically diverse communities into a centralised state, ruled directly from Bangkok, in the late 19th century. Thai nation building can be understood as an attempt by the rulers of Bangkok to create a modern centralised capitalist state, mirroring the colonial capitalist states which were being created by the British, Dutch and French in Burma, Malaya, Indonesia and Indo-China. Bangkok has ruled Patani like a colony ever since.
For this reason, the main obstacle to the self-determination for the people of Patani, is the Thai state and its various constituents, especially the military. The Thai ruling class and the military will not concede autonomy or independence for the people of Patani without a struggle.
Thai state repression has included enforced “Siamification” via primary education, the violent attacks by the state on anyone considering rebellion, murder and kidnapping of activists and massacres of innocent villagers. This has not ceased even today.
The Thai state still carries on using brutal oppressive tactics toward Malay-Muslims. The soldiers storm into peoples’ houses without having a warrant. People are stopped, searched and put into jail. The interrogation processes are extremely violent. Only progressive human rights groups dare to defend these innocent people. The military and police respond to accusations of human rights abuses, enforced disappearances and torture, by using criminal methods and legal action against human rights defenders.
Somchai Neelapaijit was a lawyer and human rights activist. He was disappeared in March 2004 after representing defendants who were tortured into “admitting guilt” in a terrorism case. This event happened under the Taksin government. The authorities who have committed the crime against Somchai Neelapaijit still walk free.
In a recent case, the army accused Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet of criminal libel. She is the director of the Cross Cultural Foundation – an organization which monitors and documents cases of torture and ill-treatment in Thailand. She received a police warrant on Sunday 24th August 2014.
If they can enact such brutality against the Malay-Muslims of Patani then they can also apply the same nasty tactics to the rest of the Thai citizens. It should be obvious that the struggle for self-determination in Patani is closely connected to the struggle for democracy and freedom in Thailand as a whole. For both to be achieved, the power and influence of the Thai military needs to be reduced and draconian laws which limit freedom of expression, such as martial law and the lèse majesté law must be repealed.
We need a collective fight. Pro-democracy activists must give solid solidarity to the Malay – Muslims of Patani. Freedom for all citizens is the only means to guarantee our rights.