Thailand’s top Muslim leader on Tuesday urged police to drop an order requiring universities to compile a list of Muslim students and activities they are involved in, for entry into a law enforcement database.
In a letter to National Police Chief Chakthip Chaichinda, Sheikhul Islam Aziz Phitakkumpon said the requirement was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
“The Sheikhul Islam Office has learned about the matter and has great concern because if the special branch police and universities implement the inquiry, it discriminates against Muslim citizens in Thailand,” he said. “And it contradicts Article 27 of the Constitution which states that each individual is legally equal in terms of rights, liberty and protections under the law.”
“The Sheikhul Islam Office requests the [national police chief] consider ordering the special branch police to stop implementing unfair practices on Muslims and all other groups of people to maintain the country’s stability and security,” Aziz said in the letter.
The letter said the compiling of such information could foster division among different groups throughout Thailand and further alienate people in the Deep South region where some ethnic Malay Muslims have waged an armed fight for independence for more than 15 years.
The Deep South borders Malaysia and encompasses Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces as well as four districts in neighboring Songkhla. Almost 7,000 people have been killed in violence in the region since a separatist insurgency reignited in 2004.
“The government must rule the country fairly and squarely to build awareness and love for the homeland. … Discrimination alienates people and may lead to greater separatism efforts,” the letter warned.
“We admit that, in fact, there are Muslim extremists out there, but police must deal with them individually and not perform a blanket cross-check on Muslim students,” Wisut Binlateh, an official in the Sheikhul Islam Office, told BenarNews on Tuesday.
“There are extremists among believers of all faiths. I don’t know why they do it to Muslim students only,” he said.
The police order came to light when Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former Thai National Human Rights Commission member, posted a copy of it on her Facebook page earlier this month.
Angkhana, who received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in the Philippines this month for her work championing human rights, has been vocal about alleged rights abuses in the mainly Muslim Deep South.
Following her revelation last week, national police deputy spokesman Col. Krishna Pattanacharoen confirmed letters were sent to several campuses to build a database and manage intelligence.
“In regard with the Sheikhul Islam’s letter addressed to the police chief, the authorities have to study the contents and will later clarify the matter,” Krishna told BenarNews on Tuesday.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha also defended the police order last week.
“We have to admit that sometimes we cannot examine or conduct something because of a lack of a database,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ismail Doloh, a third-year student at Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok, said the database was causing fear among people from the Deep South.
“Since the multiple bombings in Bangkok in August, we students and people from Deep South were under close watch, especially around Ramkhamhaeng University. There are many plain-clothed police,” Ismail told BenarNews on Tuesday, referring to a series of small explosions during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
Thai police have charged two Deep South men for their alleged roles in the bombings and have issued arrest warrants for nine other unnamed suspects.