Deep South prisons to respect Muslim observances

After a delay of over three months, prison officials in Deep South are now moving ahead with new policies designed to respect the religious observances of Muslim inmates.

The step addresses a long-standing complaint, which has in some cases fueled riots within the prison system.

The Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC) announced on Wednesday (July 11th) that it has given the final go-ahead to the plan, which includes new prison uniforms that respect the Muslim dress code.

“After meetings with the religious leaders and legal consultants, we strove to find a solution to the problems of Muslim prisoners in the three southernmost provinces and support them in their desire to practice Islam in the same way as those outside,” SBPAC Secretary General Thawee Sodsong told Khabar Southeast Asia.

“We now have the ‘sembahyang’ places [Muslim prayer rooms] for both male and female prisoners, halal food, and prison uniforms appropriate to Muslim dress code,” he said.

One of the most significant changes is the provision of new uniforms, which were first presented in March. Women inmates will now be able to wear a garment described as a “semi-hijab”, whereas their male counterparts can now wear comfortable cotton over-the-knee shorts and shirts covering up more of their bodies.

A total of 1,796 sets were presented to prisoners in Pattani, whereas inmates at Narathiwat Prison received 1,830 sets and Yala Prison 1,460.

Last year, riots took place in the Pattani Central and Narathiwat prisons, after Muslim inmates objected to being forced to work during “sembahyang” [prayer time].

Discontent was also voiced over meals that were not prepared according to halal cooking codes.

Thai prison officials granted Khabar access to interview one Muslim inmate, under the condition that only his nickname be used.

The prisoner, Mr. Ma, said: “I would like to say ‘thank you’ to every government agency for their understanding and support in allowing us new uniforms, halal food and prayer rooms. This will help us practice and learn more about the religious teachings. I believe this will help us find peace, change our behaviour for the better and improve our states of mind,” he said.

Muslims make up the majority of the local population in the Deep South. As in the rest of Thailand, drug offenses account for the majority of incarcerations.

About 60% of inmates at Narathiwat Provincial Prison are incarcerated on drug charges, according to Corrections Department director-general Suchart Wongananchai. Of these, the overwhelming majority involve ya bah (methamphetamine pills) and ya ice (crystal meth).

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