Pattani – Religious teachers in southern Thailand are being treated like enemies of the state, with more than 100 of them being detained without any valid reason, alleged a religious leader in Pattani, Mr Mohd Zain Daud, in an interview with the Malay-language Utusan Malaysia.
According to Mr Mohd Zain, the Thai authorities view imams (Islamic clerics) and religious leaders in the south as an influential group which is capable of rousing Thai-Muslims to rise up and fight for their rights.
As such, these leaders are not allowed to "live in peace" and restrictions are often placed on their movements, said Mr Mohd Zain, the 60-year-old imam of a Pattani mosque.
He himself had been harassed whenever he was on his way to a religious function, he told the Malaysian newspaper.
"The authorities would detain religious teachers at will and put them under investigation even though they have not committed any crime. We do not know what is the fate of the more than 100 teachers under detention. Some people have said that they are now being detained at a big prison in Bangkok."
Mr Mohd Zain said Thai-Muslims viewed the detention of the religious leaders as a deliberate provocation on the part of the Thai military and was aimed at inflaming further passions in the south.
He alleged that the military was looking for an excuse to launch a violent crackdown in the same way as they did at Tak Bai last October, where 80 demonstrators suffocated to death after they were piled one on top of another in military trucks.
"They know that Muslims have a lot of respect for their religious leaders. As such, they try to launch this provocation in the hope that we will be so angry that we will launch mass protests," Mr Mohd Zain said.
Apart from having influence among their community, religious leaders in the south are also blamed by the Thai government for disseminating jihadist doctrine to Muslims, he added.
Utusan quoted some observers of international politics as saying that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's policy of detaining religious in the South would backfire.
"Thaksin should stop his policy of detaining religious leaders and release all those currently under detention. The situation will worsen if such heavy-handedness continues. Muslim residents are angry over the current situation and this will make any attempt at reconciliation with the South to fail," a political analyst from a Thai university was quoted as saying.
* Policies spark anger (Utusan Malaysia, Sept 13)