Thailand’s Criminal Court has set 19 July for handing down a verdict on the alleged trafficking of Rohingya migrants in a case that involves 103 suspects including a senior Thai army officer and former politicians.
The court’s newly established human trafficking division has reportedly finished hearing the testimonies of 209 witnesses in a case that came under the media spotlight in 2015 after graves, believed to belong to Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants, were found in Songkhla near the ThaiMalaysian border.
The last group of witnesses made their statements on 24 February, ending a lengthy investigation, which caused worries over Thailand’s image at a time when the country is under close watch by the United States, which is monitoring human trafficking in various countries.
The court’s hearings started in March last year, with the judge examining the witnesses’ testimonies eight days a month. Prosecutors, who brought the case to the court in July 2015, about two months after the graves were found, have backed their charges against the suspects with 98 witnesses while another 111 witnesses testified for the defendants.
Some of the defendants’ witnesses were granted permission to give testimonies in “secret hearings” as their statements concern national security, said a court source close to the issue.
The defendants are accused of violating the 2008 AntiTrafficking in Persons Act and the 2003 Suppression of Participation in Transnational Networked Criminal Organisation Act.
Among key suspects are exsenior army adviser Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan. During the probe into his alleged involvement in the case, Manas, former commander of the 42nd Military Circle in Songkhla, was suspected of committing a range of wrongdoings including trafficking humans, helping foreigners to enter the country illegally, detaining victims of human trafficking and demanding ransoms.
Other suspects include Banchong Pongphon, or Ko Chong, the mayor of Padang Besar and Patchuban Angchotphan, or Ko Tong, the exhead of Satun provincial administration.
Along with the investigation, the AntiMoney Laundering Office also looked out for irregularities in money transactions that may involve the suspects as well as inspected assets such as boats and properties.
The case has drawn attention from human rights advocates, especially after the discovery of 32 graves on 1 May 2015 in the border town of Padang Besar in Songkhla’s Sadao district, believed to be a human trafficking camp.
According to media reports, relatives of two Rohingya migrants lodged a complaint with police, claiming the pair were detained at a remote jungle camp in the area. One of the two migrants was reportedly killed while the other managed to escape.
This story originally appeared in the Bangkok Post here.