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THAILAND : Largest human trafficking trial opens in Bangkok Bangkok

March 18, 2016 · 

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Thailand has declared war on human trafficking. The largest human-trafficking trial in Thai history opened. Former Thai army Lt Gen Manas Kongoaen and 89 other defendants went on trial in Bangkok on charges of transnational human trafficking, involving mostly people from Myanmar.

Key charges against the defendants include human trafficking, international crimes, and graft. If found guilty, the accused could get up to 15 years and a fine of up to 1 million baht (US$ 28,500). The first hearing began with the testimony of Roshiduila, an ethnic Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar* who, through an interpreter, described how a Thai police officer, Hashimyuila, acted as the main go-between for human traffickers taking people from Myanmar to Malaysia via Thailand. “Hashimyuila told me and three other friends there were jobs in the construction sector, and each would earn 1,500 ringgit (US$ 361) a month,” Roshiduila said.

Roshiduila explained that he and 20 people from his village embarked on a small boat, which sailed to a rally point in the Andaman Sea where hundreds more victims of trafficking were forced to board fishing boats. At the end of his testimony, Roshiduila identified the pictures of seven traffickers whom he saw at trafficking camps in Ranong (southern Thailand).

The ongoing crackdown was triggered in May 2015 by the discovery of 32 bodies of suspected undocumented migrants at a mass grave near Thailand’s border with Malaysia. Following this, Thailand imposed a maritime blockade on smugglers’ boats trying to land on its shores. The blockade precipitated a humanitarian crisis in Southeast Asia as thousands of desperate Rohingya and Bangladeshi ‘boat people’ drifted in the sea in terrible conditions without food or water.

Other witnesses will be heard in court until Friday. Out of 90 defendants, 88 have pleaded not guilty. For its part, police believe that 61 other suspects are still at large. Former Thai army Lieutenant General Manas Kongoaen, once promoted by Thailand’s military junta leader Prayut Chan o-cha, is one of the people on trial. He is considered the ringleader of the organisation that ran the human trafficking racket and one of the first to benefit from it. Despite the trial, activists and human rights groups have criticised Thai authorities for months, stressing that a senior officer as Manas could not have acted alone, and that others should be brought to justice. What is more, the Fortify Rights NGO has slammed the Thai government for failing to provide protection to hundreds of witnesses.

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