A court in Thailand has convicted more than 60 people, including a senior general, following a landmark human trafficking trial involving 102 defendants.
The trial stemmed from the discovery of graves of Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis found in a makeshift camp in a forest near the Malaysian border in 2015.
Lieutenant-general Manas Kongpan was sentenced to 27 years in jail for human trafficking, while another senior official, Patjuban Aungkachotephan (also known as Ko-Tong) was handed 75 years for receiving trafficked persons and sending them to Malaysia.
Sixty-two people were convicted in Bangkok of trafficking Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Forty people were acquitted.
Sentences ranged from four to 94 years.
Manas, who held a key security post in Thailand’s southern border areas, took part in the smuggling of Rohingya and illegal migrants, the court ruled.
“The defendant number 54 [Manas], instead of pushing back or denying entry to those Rohingya migrants, cooperated with the human traffickers, unduly taking benefits from the trafficking ring,” a judge ruled.
Banjong Pongpol (alias Ko Jong), a former local official in a sub-district in Thailand’s Songkhla province and who was sentenced to 79 years, arranged the transfer of migrants to relatives in Malaysia after a payment of between 30,000 (US$892) and 150,000 baht, the court said. Those unable to pay were tortured or killed, court officials said.
Soe Naing, a Rohingya man identified as the chief trafficker, received 94 years.
Rights groups welcomed the verdicts.
“Today’s verdict is a major step in efforts to combat human trafficking in Thailand, now that we see the convictions of a senior army general, local politicians, influential tycoons and others complicit in trafficking of Rohingya,” Benar News quoted Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch as saying.
“This should send a strong message that regardless of their status and affiliation, no one is above the law.”
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