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Court proceedings begin against 88 human traffickers


The Criminal Court began proceedings last week in the trial of 88 people charged with human trafficking of Rohingya and other migrants in the largest and most extensive human trafficking ring ever uncovered in the Kingdom. Among those charged are an army general, police officers and local politicians.

The trial is taking place in the recently established special division of the Criminal Court in Bangkok devoted solely to human trafficking cases. The founding of the special division was one of a raft of reforms drafted and being implemented by the Thai government in response to the problem of human trafficking.

The men on trial in Bangkok are alleged members of a human trafficking syndicate that preyed on migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, many of them Rohingya Muslims, trying to reach Malaysia. The case broke wide open in May with the discovery of abandoned prison camps and mass graves in Southern Thailand near the border with Malaysia. Even more graves and camps were also found shortly afterward inside Malaysia.

Thai courts have issued over 150 arrest warrants for suspects allegedly directly involved in the syndicate, while another 70 or so warrants have been issued for suspects allegedly involved in money laundering for the criminal enterprise.

After the discovery of the camps, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha promptly organized a regional conference to address the issues of the trafficking of Rohingya and other migrants that was attended by representatives of 15 nations and international organizations.

In court last week, judges were shown evidence such as money transfer links, data relating to mobile phone calls and other objects and documents. This added up to 15 crates and 70 folders overall. The court ordered the defendants to hand over details of bank accounts by the end of the week. Because of the large volume of evidence, questioning of witnesses will start earlier than scheduled, on Tuesday.

The defendants, including Pajjuban Angchotephan, the former Satun Provincial Administrative Organization chairman, and Lt. General Manas Kongpan, a former specialist in the Royal Thai Army, appeared in court for the first hearing under heavy guard, dressed in orange prison clothing.

All the suspects have denied the charges. Many of their family members and supporters attended the hearing.

In another case, police from the Anti-Human Trafficking Division last week arrested Surat Sangsri, owner of a karaoke restaurant, claiming he acted as an agent to find crews to work on fishing vessels. He was arrested based on information from trafficking victims who had been forced to work on vessels in Indonesian waters.