‘Thais Tortured Us,’ Say Rescued Rohingya Boatpeople

source from Phuket Wan, 21 Aug 2011

Rohingya would-be-refugees on Phuket after arriving in a boat in February

Rohingya would-be-refugees on Phuket after arriving in a boat in February
Photo by phuketwan.com/file
PHUKET: Accusations that the Thai military mistreated Rohingya boatpeople this year in a shocking new ”pushback” have been made today in a Hong Kong newspaper, quoting survivors in India.The fresh allegations go one step further than reports of the notorious 2008-2009 incidents, claiming that captive Rohingya were tortured in Thailand over five days in January.

Today’s report in the South China Morning Post newspaper quotes a Rohingya as saying that before being towed out to sea and cast adrift in a boat with no engine, “The soldiers beat us badly with wooden batons.”They forced us to go nude and stay in seawater for more than five hours every day. Using cigarette lighters, the Thai soldiers burned the beards of some of us.”

Reporter Shaikh Azizur Rhaman in Calcutta spoke by telephone to several of the 91 Rohingya who were rescued by Indian authorities on February 5.

The boatpeople are now being held in a jail in the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, between Phuket and India.

Accusations of torture by the Thai military come as mystery surrounds the policy of Thailand’s new government towards the Rohingya, a Muslim minority denied citizenship in their Burmese homeland.

Phuketwan revealed on Friday that Rohingya boatpeople who have been held on Phuket and in other parts of Thailand now appear to be being ”repatriated,” but their destination has not been revealed.

The covert process leaves many questions unanswered. Today’s revelation of a fresh ”pushback” applies pressure on the new Thai government to provide comprehensive answers.

Governments in Burma, Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and India have failed to find a solution to the issue of the stateless Rohingya since Phuketwan journalists, working with the South China Morning Post, first revealed the secret ”pushbacks” from Thailand in January 2009.

Today’s claims are likely to provide the newly elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra with an international test of its human rights policies.

Rohingya told the Post that on January 13 they were intercepted by the Thai Navy off the coast near Phuket. They said the group was held in detention for five days, before being towed far out to sea.

“We were given around 250kg of rice, 5kg of dry fish and some vegetables, and some packets of charcoal when we were left at sea,” said Sheikh Montaz, 38, who told the Post he came from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

“They gave us only about 100 litres of water. We cried for more water. They did not care.

“We had no matches to light our oven. We just kept praying to Allah to keep us alive.”

After more than two weeks adrift, the men were picked up by the Indian coastguard and taken to Port Blair, capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, joining 190 other Rohingya boatpeople who have been in detention since early 2009.

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