Two Tropical Gulags

Written by Andrew Marshall

Posted on 24 January 2011

Today, as Al Jazeera continues its daily broadcasts of “Thailand’s Tropical Gulag,” a documentary I co-produced with filmmaker Orlando de Guzman, I read two pieces of torture news. Please compare and contrast:

In Indonesia, a military tribunal found three soldiers guilty of torturing Papuans. Horrific footage of this abuse was filmed and posted on YouTube last year. This compelled the Indonesian military to act; so, probably, did the U.S., which recently re-established military links with Kopassus, the special forces notorious for human rights abuses. (Orlando and I witnessed the aftermath of a Kopassus massacre in 2003; watch Orlando’s powerful film on it here.)

For what they did to their victims—they held a burning stick to one man’s genitals, a knife to another’s face (right)—the Indonesian soldiers got off lightly: the tribunal gave them 8 to 10 months in jail. But the sentences still represent a grudging acknowledgment that torture exists in the Indonesian armed forces and that those who commit it should be held accountable.

Now look at Thailand—specifically, at an article in today’s Bangkok Post. “Nothing the military has done has violated the rights of local people,” says Udomchai Thammasarorat, commander of the Fourth Army in southern Thailand. This is the same Udomchai who told me and Orlando, “We confirm we have never committed torture”—even as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other groups continue to document its systematic use against the Malay-Muslim minority in southern Thailand.

Please watch “Thailand’s Tropical Gulag” and, if it moves you in any way, leave a comment below. I’m very interested to hear what you think.


  1. CJ Hinke says:

    “Thailand’s Tropical Gulag” is the most accurate portrayal of today’s Southern conflict we’ve seen. Thailand has attempted to impose its will on Patani since it sold half of the autonomous kingdom to the British in Malaya in 1909. The insurgency and resistance has been going on for almost 100 years! Martial law, forced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial murder outweigh any lip-service from politicians and soldiers. The compromise to separatists would be autonomy but the pride of Thai govt sees this as defeat, resulting in the current stalemate.

  2. Brad says:

    I didn’t like the name for the show to be honest. Inkhayut is an army base containing an interrogation centre where people are held for no more than 30 days usually. Gulags were labour camps where people were held for years and often worked to death.

  3. Andrew Marshall says:

    Agreed, Brad. That was actually our working title. I preferred our alternative, “The Last Days of Sulaiman Naesa.” But in television, I am learning, working titles have a funny way of becoming actual titles . . .

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