Search
Close this search box.

Like caged birds: how lives are shaped, and broken, by ‘special laws’ in the Deep South

A religious school for young Muslims in Pattani province. Census data indicates that five percent of Thais are Muslims; a majority of them are ethnic Malays living in the southern border provinces. Wissarut Werasopon / HaRDstories

In a region marred by decades of unrest, a remarkable transformation is underway. Former detainees are leading a movement against the injustices of arbitrary detention and state overreach. Their actions are rewriting the narrative from victimhood to resilience.

 

Whenever he sees a red-whiskered bulbul bird inside a cage, Abdulloh Ngoh would always have an inexplicable urge to set them free. 

Keeping the birds, which are prized for their unique sound, is a cultural practice for many Thais of Malay descent in Thailand’s southern border provinces, yet Abdulloh resents seeing them in captivity. One time he followed his urge and freed a friend’s red-whiskered bulbul from its wooden cage. 

“He was angry at me for many days!” Abdulloh said. He laughed at the memory, but then continued in a sombre voice. “I can’t ever make myself put any animal inside a cage.”

The caged birds, he confided, remind him of a dingy cell room inside Fort Ingkhayut military base in Pattani province, where he was detained for a month 14 years ago on the suspicion that he was involved in a bombing attack against security forces. The memories also left him with a mental scar; to this day, Abdulloh is wary of the sound of locks clicking into place. 

“I’m afraid of anything that makes me feel like I’m being locked in,” the 41-year-old Abdulloh said. 

Abdulloh’s experience is far from unique in the region, known as the Deep South. For two decades, security forces there have been wielding a combination of “special laws” – the Emergency Decree, the Internal Security Act, and martial law – in their bid to quell the local separatist violence that has claimed more than 7,300 lives. 

Together, the three laws grant the authorities sweeping powers to search, arrest, and detain any individuals who are under suspicion of posing threats to national security or having ties with the separatist movements, without the usual guardrails prescribed under the civilian justice system. Many of these arrests are not disclosed to the press.  

The laws also exempted security officers from being held responsible for any damages or compensation, and allowed the authorities to interrogate detainees without the presence of lawyers. According to many civil rights activists, the situation increases the risk for mistreatment, tortures, and confessions obtained under duress. 

Driven by his own experience, Abdulloh founded the Network of Individuals Affected by Special Laws – also known by its Malay acronym JASAD. The group monitors arrests and detentions carried out by security forces, offers legal aid to those prosecuted under the special laws, and helps victims of violence deal with their trauma. Abdulloh said he designed the nonprofit’s frameworks based partly on his own bitter experience with the special laws. 

“We understand individuals who are at the receiving end of these laws,” said Abdulloh.

Southern fire 

The three southern border provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat once formed a part of the Patani sultanate, an Islamic kingdom with over 400 years of history until it was annexed by the Siamese government in the early 20th century. Movements seeking either self-rule or outright independence have surfaced in the region ever since, through both peaceful and violent means, often pitting Muslim Malay groups against the state and the region’s Buddhist population. 

The latest wave of violence broke out in 2004, led by armed militants who struck with bombings, shootings, and arson attacks on law enforcement and civilian targets. The authorities responded by deploying tens of thousands of soldiers, policemen, and paramilitaries to crush the rebellion. 

But the pacification campaign was marred by well-documented human rights abuses and mass killings. In the notorious Tak Bai Incident in 2004, seven demonstrators were shot dead by security forces, and 78 more died from suffocation after they were rounded up and packed onto military trucks on top of each other. No state official was ever held responsible for their deaths.

According to a tally published in 2021 by Deep South Watch, a prominent watchdog that tracks the secessionist violence, at least 7,300 people have been killed and over 13,500 wounded in the Deep South since 2004, mostly civilians. 

The military response to the unrest also came with a series of overlapping special laws, starting with the declaration of martial law in the Deep South just one day after the first coordinated attacks by the militants in January 2004. The draconian law, introduced in 1914, permits military personnel to carry out arrests, searches, and seizure of property without any court warrant. Individuals can be held at the military’s discretion for up to seven days. 

The Emergency Decree followed suit in the following year, increasing the length of detention to 30 days and exempting security officers from any legal liability. The Internal Security Act came last in 2008, formalising many of the sweeping powers enjoyed by security forces and expanding the roles of counterinsurgency agencies.

While a succession of subsequent governments have maintained that the special laws are necessary to combat the separatists and restore peace to the region, local human rights activists like Anchana Heemmina argue that many people in the Deep South desire a peace that also respects their basic rights and allows them to live without harassment. 

“There are two types of peace,” Anchana told HaRDstories. “There’s a negative peace, which is essentially won through repression, and there’s a positive peace, which is building a society where people have access to justice, equality, and freedom from fear or violence.” 

Abdullasih Adae from the Central Muslim Attorney Centre, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to disadvantaged Muslims, also highlighted a crucial element in the justice system that’s glaringly absent under the special laws: the rights to legal counsel. 

According to Abdullasih, individuals held or charged under suspicion of wrongdoing in the Deep South are rarely informed about the nature of the charges, or the evidence brought against them, or their rights to remain silent, let alone the rights to speak to a lawyer or a person they trust. 

“The suspects never had any access to lawyers from the beginning,” Abdullasih said in an interview. “The special laws can be invoked to detain someone for up to 37 days, and it’s nearly impossible for any lawyer or cleric to accompany the suspects during the detention.”

As a result, he said, suspects are routinely pressured or manipulated into giving their testimonies and even signing confessions without ever speaking to an attorney. In many cases, Abdullasih said, the first time lawyers get to meet their clients was when the confession was being signed; the presence of the attorney is required for the signing for a strictly technical reason. 

This situation has disheartened many lawyers, including himself, because their role is effectively reduced to legitimising a confession obtained under duress, said Abdullasih. “It’s a loophole in the law that led to many violations of the principles of the law.” 

Azan and rock music 

In 2000, Abdulloh left his hometown of Pattani to study at Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok. By his own admission, much of his academic years were spent selling second hand rock band shirts and learning the trade of mobile phone repairs – a skill that would come back to haunt him later. 

On Friday nights, Abdulloh and his friends from Pattani would catch a bus to Khaosan Road, where they lose themselves in rock music at live bars while drinking soft drinks.

“My family was strictly religious, so I didn’t drink alcohol, because it was sinful,” Abdulloh said. “But I was obsessed with music,” 

Amid the sharp escalation of the violence, the government in 2006 enacted a new measure requiring all prepaid SIM cards in the Deep South to be registered with ID cards. The rule came in the wake of numerous bombings in the region, which often rely on mobile phones as the remote detonators. 

In that same year, Abdulloh had set up his career as a mobile phone repairman inside a market in Yala province. Three years later, in 2009, he received his first ever “invitation” for a questioning session issued under the special laws.

“They said they had some questions about the SIM cards I sold,” Abdulloh said. Citing a clause in the martial law, a military officer told him he would be spending seven days inside an army base. Abdulloh immediately left Yala for the base in Pattani without much concern. 

“I even brought football shoes with me,” Abdulloh said, and laughed at his own naivety. “But once I arrived, it was hell.”

Abdulloh was eventually detained for 35 days, under both martial law and the Emergency Decree. According to his anecdotes, during the interrogation security officers showed him portraits of many individuals that he had never known before, but when he insisted as much to the officers, Abdulloh was subject to torture. 

“We’ll kill you right here if you don’t talk!” Abdulloh recalled the officers screaming at him repeatedly, as he tried to grasp for air after a black-coloured bag was briefly pulled off from his face. 

“In those moments, I thought I wouldn’t make it home alive,” he said. After a month of questioning, Abdulloh was released, though the trauma never really left him. “I swore to myself that I’d never go back there again.” 

But as fate would have it, Abdulloh was detained for the second time in 2012 for seven days. Following his release, Abdulloh secured a bank loan to start his own mobile phone repair business in Pattani province. 

The peaceful life he was hoping for didn’t materialise, however, as military officers, some of whom were armed, kept visiting his shop and questioning him in the aftermath of bombing attacks in the province. Customers were gradually driven away out of fear, he said.

“So I decided to run,” Abdulloh said. He was 31 at the time he adopted the life of a drifter and a fugitive, living in one village after another and taking up odd jobs in orchards and rubber plantations. 

Per the legal procedure, if an individual “invited” for questioning by the authorities under the special laws could not be located, the invitation escalated into a summons and, if they still did not turn up, arrest warrants. Soon enough, a warrant was issued for Abdulloh, and he was finally apprehended in May 2014. But the criminal investigation against him soon fell apart after the prosecutor dismissed the case, effectively exonerating him at last. 

 

Founding JASAD

Abdulloh never ran again. Determined to help others going through the same plight that he once faced, he founded JASAD with financial help from domestic and foreign human rights organisations. Run by volunteers, JASAD focuses especially on Muslims with Malay heritage, since they are most vulnerable to mistreatment and at highest risk of being detained or questioned by the authorities. 

Apart from giving legal advice, JASAD also monitors and publishes reports of incidents of arrests or searches conducted under the special laws. The group also coordinates with families of detainees, launches public campaigns when there are allegations of torture and keeps tabs on mental health of former detainees. 

Abdulloh said his past encounters with the special laws also gave him insight to the anxiety and predicament many detainees go through. For instance, he always encouraged families of detainees to visit them in their captivity as regularly as they could – in the cases where visitation is allowed.

“For someone who was torn away from home, and not seeing families visiting them, their loneliness is indescribable,” he said, citing his own experience. “That’s why we even offer to pay for the transport if some families can’t afford it.”

JASAD is currently staffed by about 20 volunteers. All of them, Abdulloh assured, have intimate understanding of the special laws and the rights afforded to detainees, which they explain in plain language to the detainees’ families. The staff were also trained to interact with families of detainees in a professional and sympathetic manner, given the fear and worries afflicted on them. 

“We have to know how to handle the families, too,” Abdulloh said. “Some of them came to us weeping. Some couldn’t bring themselves to say a word. So our volunteers need those skills. We sent them to basic workshops on first aid, mental health, and interview techniques. They have to learn how to ask [sensitive questions], and how to be a good listener. They have to be professional.” 

Abdulloh spoke to HaRDstories from the office of JASAD, which is housed in a modern building with a traditional Islamic dome at the top – a typical architecture found across the Deep South. At one point during the interview, as he reflected on the state of human rights in the region, Abdulloh laid down on the floor and shut his eyes, overwhelmed. 

“Our religion teaches us not to lose hope,” Abdulloh said, opening his eyes. “But sometimes, I lose the strength to carry on.” 

 

Lives under special laws

After finishing his afternoon prayer, Abdulloh rolled and lit up a cigarette outside JASAD office building. Before the smoke faded away, he pushed through the glass door, upon which a sticker bearing JASAD’s logo was emblazoned: a lone candle shining amid the darkness. Today, a group of women from Narathiwat came to his office seeking help for a relative taken away by security officers for questioning. 

“We’re experts on arbitrary detention,” Abdulloh introduced himself to the family in a matter-of-fact tone. He wasn’t making a joke; he was assuring them that JASAD knows its business. 

The women told Abdulloh about their loved one, who was detained just a few days earlier on the suspicion of his involvement in a militant attack in Pattani two months back. As Abdulloh explained the details of the special laws being used and what recourse the family could take, they listened to him with a mute, attentive intensity, like students in one of the many madrasas, or Islamic schools, dotting the region.

Two or three volunteers are present at the JASAD office on any given day, ready to receive families seeking help and documenting their cases. Instead of money, Abdulloh said, the volunteers work in exchange for a hope that peace and justice will one day prevail in their homeland. 

One of the volunteers is Amani Jelae, whose full-time job is teaching at a madrasa in Pattani province. She was 13 when the militants launched the deadly attack on the Pileng military base in January 2004, sparking the two decades of insurgency. Her relatives were soon detained by security officers wielding the special laws, and her village raided by military forces. 

“Back then, as a kid, I didn’t understand much of what was happening,” Amani said. “But I grew afraid every time soldiers entered our village.” 

Fears later turned into hatred, but instead of violence, she chose to channel her hatred into a hope that justice would be possible, and decided to volunteer for JASAD.

Amani and other volunteers are typically assigned cases of certain detainees that they have to follow closely. Abdulloh said detainees are most at risk of being subject to maltreatment and torture during their captivity under the special laws. Many victims decide not to inform their visiting families about their ordeal, out of fear that the officers would punish them even further once the visitors depart. 

Torture allegations

Due to the risk of physical violence, JASAD volunteers are trained to take note of any abnormal marks or clues on detainees during their visitation, such as any bruises on their faces, or the way they move about. 

If the detainees’ families pass along information of alleged torture, JASAD would submit their complaints to high-profile civil rights bodies to demand investigation, such as the National Human Rights Commission or the United Nations office in Thailand.

While security forces routinely deny any accusations of torture in custody, they pose a genuine worry for many Muslims living in the Deep South. Their fear is further cemented by frequent news reports of serious injuries or even deaths inside the military interrogation centres. 

One such case was Abdullah Esomuso, a farmworker and construction worker in Pattani who was detained by the military in 2020 on the allegation of aiding local militant fighters. He was implicated by testimonies obtained from another detainee also held in military custody. But just a few days later, Abdullah turned up in a hospital in a coma, and soon died. 

Doctors at the hospital told his family that he showed signs of cerebral edema and prolonged asphyxiation, causing his relatives to suspect that torture was inflicted on Abdullah by the security officers. However, an inquest by a Songkhla court in 2022 cleared the officers of any involvement, citing a lack of evidence. 

Abdulloh, the JASAD founder, said he identified two types of torture from many interviews he conducted with past detainees: physical and mental torture, as well as subcategories of tortures that produce visible injuries, and those that do not. 

He described some of the torture alleged by the detainees: beating by large objects wrapped with clothes to minimise bruises, exposure to freezing water, and electric shocks administered through a wet cloth stuck in the detainee’s rectums. One of the most feared methods, the activist said, was a form of simulated drowning, also known as waterboarding: the victim is strapped to a bed and a towel placed on his face, before water is poured onto the cloth. 

While HaRDstories cannot independently verify these claims, rights watchdog groups have published several reports detailing alleged tortures in military custody in the Deep South, such as a 2015 paper published by the Cross Cultural Foundation. At the heels of numerous documented abuses, the Parliament in 2022 also passed a landmark legislation aimed at preventing tortures and enforced disappearance. 

Secondary victims

While reports of physical torture and bodily injuries are often picked up by the press, emotional scars carried by past detainees are almost never discussed, according to Abdulloh, who recalled heartbreaking fates that befell on local residents targeted by the special laws. 

Men imprisoned in lengthy pre-trial detention were divorced by their wives, who found that they could no longer sustain living on their own in the largely conservative society. Children of suspects on trial were ridiculed by their classmates in schools as offspring of “terrorists.” Ordinary people from all walks of lives were forced to go through traumatic detention and legal battles for years, before the court or the prosecutors dropped their charges in the end. 

“Can anyone fix their broken lives, and give them back those years?” Abdulloh asked.

Based on JASAD’s survey in 2022, nearly half of former detainees show signs of mental trauma that should be treated. There are also countless households in the Deep South who struggle to find normality after their relatives found themselves accused – whether they are families of national security suspects, detainees, those killed in military raids, or those who chose to flee out of fear of torture in military custody. 

“They are the secondary victims,” said Anchana, the local activist who leads a group called Duay Jai, which monitors human rights abuses and offers therapy programs for the victims, along with their families. “These victims are rarely visible to us, but they are the ones who have to live with chronic wounds.”

Duay Jai is one of the many civil rights networks based in the Deep South that advocate for long-lasting peace and an end to excessive powers, promoted by the special laws. Anchana, who has documented almost 150 cases of alleged torture in the region since 2011, spent much of her time talking to past detainees and guiding them and their families to rehabilitation. 

Speaking to HaRDstories, Anchana compared the impacts of the special laws to circles of ripple that spread out from the individuals directly affected by the special laws, to their immediate families, and the society in general. 

“For every person targeted by the special laws, there are 20-30 people caught in the ripples of consequences,” Anchana said. 

A reporter for HaRDstories accompanied Anchana and her colleagues at Duay Jai on one of their outreach visits to a remote community in Yala province. The roads snaked along hilly forests, passing through multiple military checkpoints – an everyday sight for many residents in the Deep South. Some of these outposts were deserted, while others were manned by armed security officers who stopped travellers and asked them for their destinations.

The journey ended at a village at the foot of a valley in Bannang Sata district. Inside the village mosque, Anchana and her team hosted a discussion with the young men and women of the community. 

“Soon, the old generation will die away,” Anchana stressed the fact to the youthful crowd who stared shyly at her. “But your generation will have a long time to live. We want to hear your voices about what you want in your lives. It’s important to us.” 

Soon after, several young women started to speak up. They shared their concerns about the way security officers used sexually suggestive words with them at checkpoints. For them, their questioning had less to do with security, and more to do with unsolicited flirtation. 

“A soldier once asked me where I was going, and if it was alright for him to go with me,” a woman said.

Anchana replied to her, “You have to firmly tell them, ‘I decline to answer this question,’ to make them know that this kind of question is unacceptable. You have every right to protect yourself. You aren’t in the wrong here.”

The men complained of security officers demanding to photograph their ID cards and subjecting them to long questioning about where they were going. Wearing a traditional Malay outfit is also guaranteed to raise their level of suspicion to the roof. More than anything, the crowd told Anchana, they wanted a more democratic governance that takes their opinions and desires into consideration.

A house divided 

Before Anchana’s entry to human rights advocacy, her life was – as she described it – like many other ordinary people in the world: working hard to support her family. The insurgency in the Deep South felt distant to her. For Anchana, the news reports about insurgents’ bombings and gun attacks made her write off the conflict as a product of some radical Muslims who seemed obsessed with violence. 

Everything changed when her brother-in-law, whom the security forces accused of killing a Buddhist farmer, was detained and allegedly tortured in 2010. Anchana said she experienced first-hand the injustice introduced by the special laws, and she soon founded the Duay Jai group to comfort and assist other families who went through the same painful labyrinth. 

“After I started the group, I learned that even many people who chose violence were victims of violence themselves,” Anchana said. “They didn’t know how else to retaliate, so they responded in kind. It became a cycle of violence.”

For Burhan Baraheng, one of the volunteers at JASAD, the same cycle was visited upon his own brother, Manung. In an interview, he described Manung as a young man with passion for his faith; at one point, Manung even invited some clerics to organise Quran studies for his neighbours at a village in Pattani’s Sai Buri district. 

However, the move landed Manung under the watchful eyes of the security forces in the area, who interpreted his actions as fitting their stereotype of “radical Muslims” intent on inciting the local populace into taking up armed resistance. 

“Manung was a religious man who never used any drugs,” Burhan said, while noting the irony. “If he were a drug user, or a thief, or a drunkard, he wouldn’t have been noticed by the security officers at all. But once you put on a taqiyah [a Muslim prayer cap], it’s over for you.”

Burhan spoke of his brother as he drove a reporter for HaRDstories to what was once a house where he and Manung grew up together with their family, before their lives were shattered. The road to their house, too, was littered with unwitting memorials to the ethnic and religious conflict that had shattered the Deep South for the past two decades. 

“A Buddhist was shot dead over there,” Burhan said as he pointed to the side of the road. Less than a kilometre away, he gestured at another spot: “A municipal officer was killed there, too, and the municipal office was later burned down.

“A military outpost once stood here. The insurgents launched an attack on it,” Burhan said, but nothing remained save for tall weeds on the roadside. 

“Another Buddhist was killed here. Ahead of us, a police officer escorting a ballot box was shot,” Burhan poured out his memories as the road took us closer to the destination. 

“And that’s where my brother is,” he pointed to a cemetery. 

In 2006, the authorities launched what was dubbed as an operation to “deprive the fish of its water,” a campaign that saw mass arrests and interrogation of young men in many villages across the Deep South. The goal was to dissuade them from joining the insurgency and extract whatever information they may have on the known militants, as well as pressing charges on the men suspected of harbouring connections to separatists movements.

As usual, the round ups were carried out under the auspices of the special laws, which led to a flood of alleged tortures and confessions made under threats of violence. Years later, however, many of the criminal investigations fell apart in the court, where cases after cases were dismissed for their flimsy evidence. 

Having seen many of his friends in the village being rounded up by the military, Manung decided to flee. Burhan said his family received no word about his brother until they saw the news about a firefight between government troops and a group of insurgents on 13 February 2013. The news reports named the 16 militants killed in the clash. Manung was among them. 

Burhan’s family was immediately branded as the family of a terrorist, although in Burhan’s view, his brother was the one who was forced onto the path of violence and death. A series of persistent “visits” by security officers that followed convinced Burhan and his family that they could no longer afford to live in peace, and went on their separate ways. The house they grew up in was abandoned and eventually torn down. 

The genetics of justice 

After Manung’s death, Burhan himself was detained twice for questioning. According to the activist, he was subject to beating nearly every day at the hands of eight security officers who took turns delivering the blows. 

“Even today, I still live with the pain,” Burhan said, before lifting his shirt to reveal a pain relief patch on his back.

During his detention, Burhan said, he was also forced to give up DNA samples to the law enforcement officers, without any details on their purpose or when the samples would be destroyed. No forensic official was present either, he said.

“They just stuck a cotton swab into my mouth, and then told me to sign a consent form,” Burhan recalled, adding that he was too fearful to challenge or question the officers. Upon his release, he joined JASAD as a volunteer. His duty involves compiling a database of arrests and detention, before passing them on to human rights organisations that campaign on related issues. 

Government officials first introduced the policy of collecting DNA samples en masse in the Deep South in 2012. The measure is opposed by multiple civil rights groups, including JASAD, who argue that security officers routinely secure those samples without due cause or informing the targeted individuals of their rights. 

Criminal law experts also warn that genetic samples may be abused by law enforcement officials who seek to tie suspects to certain crimes without relying on additional evidence. 

“Just because someone’s genetic traces were found at a crime scene, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are the bad guys,” said Abdullasih from the Central Muslim Attorney Centre. “DNA alone isn’t enough to pin a crime on anyone.” 

Yet, security officers continue to conduct mass sampling of DNA at random, whether at military checkpoints, or during searches in houses, villages, religious schools, and even communities of Pattani descendants in Bangkok, according to Abdullasih. 

Another critic of the DNA policy is Narong Jaiharn, a law professor at Thammasat University, who said that criminal procedure laws clearly indicate that DNA samples could only be obtained with explicit consent from defendants, suspects, victims, or witnesses. He also noted that the broad powers of the special laws do not exempt them from the obligation to rights and liberty enshrined in the Constitution. 

“The three special laws cannot forego the rights of suspects or detainees,” Narong said, adding that the protection of suspects and detainees should be even higher than usual whenever a special law is applied, to guard against any potential abuse.  

The professor also urged the authorities to exercise the special laws in accordance with universal standards of human rights and Thailand’s legislation on criminal procedures. 

“The three special laws should only be used temporarily,” Narong said. “Since these laws have been invoked for 20 years already, they should be subject to a review, whether this mechanism is still appropriate.” 

Following the 2023 general elections, which brought the current administration under Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin to office, many observers were looking for clues as to how the new government would handle the special laws in the Deep South. Encouraging signs emerged in September, when the administration agreed to extend the Emergency Decree by just one month, instead of three months, as the practice had been.

However, the decree was duly extended multiple times afterward, and the extension increased back to three months earlier this year, snuffing any hope of a reform. By one count, the Emergency Decree has already been renewed over 70 times since it was first imposed in 2005. 

A bird that shuns its cage

“If our homeland is finally at peace…” Abdulloh began as he drove to Pattani town centre, though before he managed to finish his trail of thought, the JASAD founder was suddenly seized with an intense headache. He had to ask the reporter to take the wheel while he recovered in the passenger seat.

As he slumped on the seat, his eyes wandering to piles of fallen coconut leaves littering the roadsides, Abdulloh spoke again, “I just want to live a simple life. I once told a friend of mine that when there’s peace in the three border provinces, I’d just grow vegetables in my garden and sell them for a living. I just want a simple and relaxed life.

“But shortly after that, my friend was killed during a clash with the security forces,” Abdulloh fell silent. 

Three months ago, Abdulloh had confided to the reporter, soldiers raided a village in the vicinity of his house where he lives with his wife and son, and took in a man for interrogation. The news resurrected the memories of his own imprisonment in the military base so many years ago, and he gradually descended into a depth of paranoia and anxiety. Abdulloh described the sensation of feeling unsafe even inside his own house.

One day, Abdulloh drove out to see Burhan, his trusted colleague at JASAD. But he ended up getting lost on the way, forcing Burhan to look for him on the road and bring Abdulloh to spend a night at his place. After the incident, Abdulloh visited a psychiatrist for the first time in many years. 

“He just lost it,” Burhan spoke of that day. “Even though he’s been to my house dozens of times, he still got lost.” 

Abdulloh’s therapists had informed him that the conditions he was suffering from checked all the boxes for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. 

“I’ve seen so many doctors. Psychiatrists from Switzerland, India, Malaysia. They all told me that wounds inside a mind are hard to heal and go back to normal,” Abdulloh said. “But no matter how hard it is, I’d always get myself to work. We’ve been mistreated for so long, so if we don’t stand up and fight, no one else probably will.” 

Abdulloh was still quiet. The car was in complete silence; no music was playing. In an attempt to lighten up the mood, the reporter asked Abdulloh – who had once wandered on Khaosan Road lost in the rock music – if there’s any particular song that holds a special meaning to him. 

“Actually there is, but it’s not rock music,” Abdulloh answered, turning on the music player inside the car. As ‘Safe and Sound’ by Taylor Swift started to play, he explained that a researcher introduced him to the song after she interviewed him for her research on the unrest in the Deep South.  

 

Just close your eyes

The sun is going down

You’ll be alright

No one can hurt you now

Come morning light

You and I’ll be safe and sound

Editing and translation by Teeranai Charuvastra

Veerapong Soontornchattrawat is a freelance writer who explores social issues through the experiences of individuals. He focuses on human interest stories, particularly the effects of historical and social conflicts. His work, ranging from fiction to non-fiction, has been published in books, magazines, and by news agencies.

Wissarut Weerasopon is a Thai documentary and news photographer. Since graduating with a photography degree from Pohchang Academy of Art in 2017 he has worked with major Thai publications such as National Geographic Thailand.

More Features