Thai govt works to free fishermen

By Prangthong Jitcharoenkul for The Bangkok Post on 7 September 2015,

PONTIANAK, INDONESIA: A Thai delegation is working with the Indonesian government to free Thai fishermen detained for illegally entering Indonesian waters.

Hundreds of fishermen were arrested last year for violating local laws on fishing, after Jakarta cancelled a concession for foreign fishing boats. Around 1,400 have been repatriated following Bangkok’s intervention, but many are still languishing in prison. It is unclear how many Thai nationals are currently in Indonesian prisons for illegal fishing activities.

On Aug 24, Consular Affairs department director-general Thongchai Chasawath and the ambassador to Jakarta, Paskorn Siriyaphan, took a delegation to Indonesia’s national state prison in Pontianak city, West Kalimantan province, where five Thai fishermen have been behind bars for nine months.

Kijja Aoonwatthanaphaisan, 32, from Songkhla, was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison after being found guilty of illegal fishing in April. He hopes the authorities will reduce his term and allow him to start a new life. “Life is not easy here,” he added, admitting he missed home. “I should have ensured my documents were genuine.”

The detained fishermen complained to the delegates about the poor translators provided by their employers. Mr Paskorn responded that the embassy was ready to provide translators if required.

A team also visited 16 Thai crew members at an immigration detention centre. Among them, Somboon Nobnorm, 65, from Si Sa Ket province, said he wanted to go home. “Living here is killing me. I am not happy at all,” he said.

During the delegation’s visit, Indonesia repatriated 39 Thai fishermen on Aug 24, while another 19 were sent home on Aug 27. Mr Thongchai said a total of 1,435 fishermen, including the recently repatriated groups, have returned home with the help of the Thai authorities.

Many detained fishermen are victims of human trafficking, but Mr Thongchai said more than half of those helped by his department were not victims.

Meanwhile, MJ Baringbing, Minister of Law and Human Rights in Pontianak city, said another 12 Thai nationals are waiting for their cases to be heard by Indonesian courts.

He said the stiffer measures imposed by the government aimed to crack down on illegal fishing and to conserve the marine ecosystem.

“Thailand has been cooperating with us well. The amount of illegal fishing is decreasing. We will work more closely to continue the progress,” he said.




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