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Thai Muslims campaign for civil rights, 1975
The country of Thailand has experienced several conflicts between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority. In the decade of the 1970s tensions rose in the southern Thai region of Pattani. In late 1975 six young Muslims were traveling in a car through Pattani when they were stopped by soldiers. They were arrested, apparently for further questioning, but in fact were taken to a bridge, stabbed, and their bodies were thrown into the river. A fifteen year-old boy survived and swam ashore. The boy told other Muslims what had happened.
Residents of the boy’s village were incensed and filed a petition against the government. In this petition they recounted the story that the boy had told. They also claimed that government officials had bribed doctors at the hospital where the boy was taken for treatment to poison him in order to silence him. The villagers went on to state in the petition that if the government failed to acknowledge the incident they would protest.
When the government failed to respond, students from Thammasat, Chulalongkorn, Ramkhamhaeng, Mahidon, and Chiang Mai universities organized a protest (These universities are based mostly in other parts of Thailand). The demonstration took place on December 12, 1975, and had approximately 3,000 participants. They protested outside the Pattani Provincial Hall, where they presented the government with a list of four demands. First, they wanted the murder suspects to be investigated and prosecuted if found guilty, second, they wanted the families of the victims to be compensated, third, they wanted the marines to be removed from the three southern provinces of Thailand, and last they wanted the true facts of the killings to be released to the public.
On this day the Civil Rights Protection Center (CRPC) was formed in order to provide leadership to allow the protests to continue. Additionally, the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) played a major role in planning and leading the protests. While the PULO was traditionally a violent organization and even threatened violence in this case, this threat was never actually acted upon. On December 13, protesters added a fifth demand, which was that the prime minister come in person to ensure that their demands were met.
During a public protest meeting on December 13, an explosive was thrown into the crowd. Estimates put the casualties of this incident at 11-25 dead and 30-40 injured. Those who were killed included a leader of the protests, who ran to the stage after the explosive went off and pleaded with people not to leave. He was shot to death on stage. The people that were killed were widely regarded as martyrs. It is unclear who threw the explosive, but sources speculate that it was either Thai Buddhist extremists or Thai soldiers.
This violence provided new fuel for the campaign. In response, 50,000 people renewed the campaign’s demands in a demonstration at the Pattani Central Mosque. The nonviolent protests lasted for 47 days, until the Thai government agreed to meet all of the protesters’ demands on January 27, 1976.