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Rights activist shot dead in the Deep South

Roning Dolah, a human rights defender and torture survivor, assisted other Malay Muslim torture victims in Thailand’s troubled Deep South.

Duay Jai Foundation
Roning Dolah, known for his work with torture survivors, was killed on 25 June in Pattani province. Photo courtesy of the Duay Jai Foundation.

Bangkok – A prominent Malay Muslim human rights defender was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in Pattani province’s Yarang district in southern Thailand on 25 June. Roning Dolah, 45, was well known in Thailand’s insurgency-ridden southern border region for advocating for the rights of alleged torture survivors.

A victim of arbitrary detention and alleged torture while in military custody, Roning became a coordinator for the Pattani-based civil society organization Duay Jai Foundation. This foundation works under the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. After engaging in a mental and physical rehabilitation program facilitated by the foundation, Roning joined their efforts.

According to Duay Jai, Roning was arbitrarily detained on five different occasions between 2007 and 2017 and allegedly suffered ill-treatment by military officers while in custody. His work with Duay Jai involved handling complaints, providing rehabilitation support to other alleged torture survivors, and coordinating community activities.

Calls for justice

“The Thai authorities must carry out a prompt, transparent, independent and effective investigation into Roning’s death and bring the perpetrators to justice in a manner consistent with international human rights law,” said Amnesty International’s Thailand Researcher Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong in a statement. 

“Such an investigation is essential not only for delivering justice for Roning and his loved ones, but also to prevent this incident from having a chilling effect on human rights activism in this region of Thailand.”

Ongoing conflict in the Deep South

For over two decades, the southernmost area of Thailand, comprising the three provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, has been the scene of violent conflict between Muslim insurgents and the Thai state. According to local think tank Deep South Watch, at least 7,594 individuals have been killed on both sides since January 2004.

The information and testimonies Roning obtained through interviews with alleged torture survivors were used by various human rights groups in their campaigns to demand accountability for military abuses. They also advocated for Thailand’s Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearances, which took effect in February 2023

Official response

Details of the incident are still pending an investigation by authorities. The Thai government’s Internal Security Operations Command Region 4, the agency responsible for counterinsurgency operations in the deep south, has issued a statement expressing condolences to Roning’s family and called for witnesses to come forward with information.

“The brutal killing of a prominent human rights defender underscores that anyone who speaks out for justice in Thailand’s deep south is at risk,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thai authorities should urgently and transparently investigate this killing and bring all those responsible for Roning Dolah’s death to justice.”

It seems particularly poignant that Roning was killed one day before the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which is remembered every year on 26 June.

“The Srettha government should promptly act to reverse the deepening climate of fear in Thailand’s deep south by showing that those responsible for killing Roning will be held to account,” Pearson said. “Thai authorities should take concrete measures to protect the rights of ethnic Malay Muslims to speak out about state-sponsored abuses and demand justice.”

 

Read about how former detainees in the Deep South are leading a movement against the injustices of arbitrary detention and state overreach here.