I remembered, I met “her” for the first time in Yala in 2008 as I got the chance to work closely with Muslim Attorney Center (MAC) that year.
“She” came by the MAC office in Yala with her sister in seek of assistance, because they believed that her brother in law had been abducted during the delivery of a car. They were running a car wash business and it was part of the services that they returned the cars to their customers. He was gone for a while before the family found out that he’d been arrested and charged with national security crime.
Admittedly, “she” and “her” sister had different characteristics than the other families of detainees in national security cases. They showed up in a Honda CRV, whereas most clients at that time were villagers who had to borrow a pickup truck from their acquaintance in order to travel to the city. Regardless of their choice of transportation, everyone was confused, anxious and clueless after they’d found out that someone in their family had been arrested.
Another thing that made these two sisters stand out from the rest was that both of them graduated from Kasetsart University with a degree in forestry studies. Again, most clients were villagers and some of them might have graduated from high school or studied religion. However, I could not remember the educational background of “her” brother in law, but he was working in an area close to her home in Sabayoi District, Songkhla, before he met with “her” sister.
The Forestry Faculty at Kasertsart University in Bangkok, was regarded as a tough faculty where the culture of male dominance permeated the entire system, including the students that only a small number was women. “Her” mother was a teacher, and evidently she had raised two independent and strong women despite the circumstances. Respectfully, both of them managed to maintain such grace in a traditional manner throughout the four years at university, as most women students would be perceived as unconventional.
Our first meet at the office of MAC was brief and it took some time before we saw each other again.
Afterwards, I found out that the Honda CRV had been sold because “she” needed money for business investment as well as for the legal procedure. “Her” brother in law was later released because the court dismissed the case.
“She” was seen at different forums and panel discussions on the topic of “justice”. Subsequently, we became close friends and started to work with each other on a frequent basis only 6 years ago.
The first time I stayed at her place in Sabayoi, with enthusiasm, she took me to the rubber plantation and teach me about the rubber tapping. At that time, the rubber price was not as low as 3 kg/100 THB. “She” was running a small business buying rubber. “She” said that if “she” wanted to help others, “she” first had to stand on her own two feet. “Her” father passed away when “she” was a kid. This is when I saw the strength and the limitless courage from “her” mother in “her”.
Before she leaves home, “she” will always ask for “her” mom’s blessing, and many times I’ve heard “her” on the phone with “her” mom speaking with the Southern accent. “She” always keeps “her” mom posted on where “she” is and lets her know that “she” will be on “her” way home soon. Even late at night, “she” will always make it home to see “her” mom. Sometimes “she” has to drive alone in the dark from Pattani to Songkhla giving the reason that “she” wants to go home because “her” mother is waiting for “her”. The reason that cannot be opposed.
This trait makes us similar: we are close to our moms, and we’ve both got our moms in us.
Another similarity that brought us even closer was that we were accused of defamation and violation of the Computer Crime Act because of the report on torture allegations we released in 2014.
There were many villagers getting arrested and taken to different military bases in the Deep South. They were allegedly exposed to the practice of torture. Some almost died. Some returned to their homes but could not live the same life they had before they got arrested. In 2011, we started to document the cases systematically after receiving the Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel and Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which facilitated our work in the field as the method of in-depth interviews with the affected people was not always easy.
Our work became accepted in 2012 and supported by the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.
Our approach to reach out to the victims was extremely cautious but after we decided to team up with HAP (Patani Human Rights Organization Network), which was founded by the victim of torture himself in Yala, the number of cases we were documented kept growing, from 82 to 110 and almost 150 in 2017.
“She” became a human rights activist after “her” family member was detained. “She” is well-rounded, goal-motivated, enthusiastic and “she” has a legit understanding of “her” work. “She” is a local and “she” comprehends the customs and life of the community despite her terribly poor Malayu. “Her” legitimacy and strength empower “her” human rights work. Our work in Bangkok would have been nothing without “her”. “She” is the most significant key in connecting the victims and the national and international human rights mechanisms.
The rumor says that “she” will be exposed to more severe harassment and insult due to “her” work as it’s drawn so much attention from the media during the past three years. Hateful propaganda has been continuously used to discredit her work and defamatory words have been thrown at her on a regular basis.
Another rumor says that “her” brother in law is at risk of getting arrested for the second time under the enforcement of special laws, due to the rising number of disturbing incidents in the area.
They have been warned.
Personally, I believe that there are officers who want the same thing as “her”, who are committed to their work as “her”, and who want peace to be restored as much as “her”. Even though we have different approaches, it does not justify the practice of harassment and degrading treatment that unprofessionally has been utilized to discredit the work of human rights NGOs.
Shouldn’t it be better to respect our differences?
There are people who rely on us, on our work.
This must end. All hateful propaganda. All defamatory words. All degrading acts against human rights activists, including “her”.
We are human beings who eat and sleep, just like you.