Those convicted included Lt-General Manas Kongpan, who headed the Internal Security Operations Command for the entire South before his arrest, and Pajjuban Aungkachotephan, a prominent local politician and administrator.
The conviction of a senior Army officer was an extremely rare event in junta-ruled Thailand.
“The defendant worked with others to facilitate human trafficking,” read the verdict against Manas, who was found to have played a key role in a transnational crime organisation.
The court spent all of Wednesday reading a 500-page verdict on 102 defendants charged with trafficking migrants, most of whom were ethnic Rohingya people from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
They were charged with involvement in the modern-day slave trade in a case that focused international attention on the regional migrant crisis two years ago.
Manas was arrested in 2015 along with several other security officials and politicians from local administrations in the southern Satun province, following the discovery of a mass grave in a jungle shelter in the border district of Sadao, where traffickers had hidden their victims.
The court found that Manas, Police Colonel Charn U-thong and Pol Sub-Lieutenant Narathon Samphan were guilty of human trafficking and organising a transborder crime syndicate.
The case involved 103 defendants but one of them died during the trial.
Ten defendants, including two police officers, were acquitted based on insufficient evidence.
The court summarised witness accounts depicting the responsibilities of suspects who ran the Rohingya detention camp in the Khao Kaew hills of Sadao district, from where the Rohingya were smuggled to Malaysia.
The verdict also dwelled on witness accounts about the violence used by traffickers in charge of food and water supplies.
The court related testimony that not enough food and water was provided to the detained Rohingya, who faced death threats designed to prevent them from using their phones or fleeing the camp. The court also said it had been told that victims were beaten up when they asked for more food and water.
The court also found another high-profile defendant, Pajjuban Aungkachotephan, guilty of human trafficking, organising a cross-border crime syndicate and bringing illegal migrants into the Kingdom.
Widely known as “Ko Tong”, Pajjuban is the former chief of Satun Provincial Administrative Organisation. Public prosecutors accused him of using private islands in the Andaman, sea close to tourist spots such as Koh Lipe, to shift boatloads of migrants to the mainland, where they were packed into lorries and taken to camps straddling the Malaysian border.
Published : July 19, 2017
By : The Nation