Thailand has been urged to ensure recently arrested Pakistani asylum seekers are not returned to face persecution, torture and Islamist mobs in Pakistan.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the military-appointed prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, to recognise that almost all of the detained asylum seekers were from Christian and Ahmadis communities that have been prosecuted or attacked by religious extremists in Pakistan.
Christians make up less than 2 per cent of Pakistan’s population.
The Thai authorities recently hailed the arrest of more than 70 Pakistani nationals in their crackdown on visa breaches.
No official reference was made to the persecution faced by the tiny Bangkok community in their homeland, with the authorities instead focussing on the seizure of suspected people traffickers.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, should have unimpeded access to the asylum seekers to help ensure that no one was deported to a country where their lives or freedom were threatened, under the principle of non-refoulement, HRW said.
“The Thai government may not fully appreciate the grave dangers facing Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis back in Pakistan,” said HRW Asia chief Brad Adams. “It’s critically important for Thai authorities to free Pakistanis recognised as refugees from detention and not to return any into harm’s way in violation of international law.”
Pakistani asylum seekers have been targeted for prosecution for illegal entry or visa overstays under Thailand’s high-profile Operation X-Ray Outlaw Foreigner crackdown in which thousands of foreigners have been detained.
Last week, a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, was acquitted by the Pakistani Supreme Court of blasphemy and had her 2010 death penalty annulled.
Thousands of Islamists, led by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan Party, protested to demand a review of the court order.
Rights groups say the Thai authorities should not detain registered refugees and recognise the importance of asylum claims and the principle of non-refoulement.
Non-refoulement forbids a country receiving asylum seekers from returning them to a country in which they face persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.
Despite being subject to the UN Convention against Torture, Thailand treats asylum seekers as immigrants, having failed to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 UN Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Pakistani Christians have been repeatedly targeted by the Thai authorities. Picture credit: YouTube