Thailand’s prime minister defended police for requesting information about minority Muslim students from universities around the country after the move was called discriminatory and illegal.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Tuesday the police request, which follows a series of bomb blasts in the capital Bangkok in August blamed on Muslim suspects, was needed to build a national security database.
An official letter from police, shared online by former rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit, asked a university to supply information about the numbers, place of origin, sect affiliation and other details about Muslim-organised student groups. The name of the university was blotted out.
“This is an interference to personal rights and a discrimination based on religion,” Angkhana said, adding freedom of religion and the right to privacy were guaranteed by the Thai constitution.
About 90 percent of Thais are Buddhist, though Muslims are a majority in three southern provinces bordering Malaysia.
Prayuth said the move was necessary.
“The police already pointed out this is for the creation of a database on intelligence,” Prayuth said. “No rights have been breached. We cannot manage anything if we don’t have data.”
Muslim students said the police request was discriminatory.
“We want the police to reconsider this, the university should be a space where students can express their views freely and their rights are protected,” said Ashraf Awae, president of the Muslim Students Federation of Thailand.
A police source said the request for information on Muslims was linked to the attacks on August 2 that wounded four people when six small bombs and six incendiary devices went off in Bangkok, which was hosting a major international meeting.
Three people were arrested and 11 other suspects remain at large. All are Muslim Malays from southern Thailand.
“We are worried about those ill-intended people who are infiltrating university students,” said a police source who didn’t want to be named because he wasn’t authorised to speak to the media.
Similar letters were sent to many Thai education institutions as part of a routine update of an existing intelligence database, police said in a statement.
Some universities with a large population of Muslim students were disturbed by the letter.
Wuthisak Lapcharoensap, president of Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok, said police should reconsider their request.
“I have not received the letter yet but if it comes, I would not be able to comply,” Wuthisak said.