Trafficker of Rohingya given 35-year prison sentence

2_trafficking2In an example of Thailand’s tougher measures against modern-day slavery, a court in southern Thailand handed down a prison sentence of 35 years to a Thai man convicted of trafficking 98 Rohingya migrants from Myanmar last year, as Thailand agreed last week to a Malaysian request to extradite 10 people suspected of trafficking Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants so they can stand trial there.

Sunon Saengthong, who received the 35-year sentence, was arrested in January 2015 after police stopped five vehicles at a checkpoint and found they were packed with Rohingya migrants being smuggled through southern Thailand. The arrests prompted an investigation that led to the discovery of a large transnational human trafficking ring and produced one of the largest court cases in Thai history. More than 100 people, including some high-ranking military and police officers, local politicians and bureaucrats are standing trial for crimes related to the case.

Among recommendations to improve the Kingdom’s response to human trafficking, the United States has called for tougher sentencing for those convicted of trafficking. In the past, sentences were sometimes relatively light, as laws were weaker and some in the judicial system did not treat the problem with sufficient seriousness. During the past two years, however, the numbers of arrests have increased, laws have been toughened, and sentences have become far lengthier and more severe.

Two other men convicted in the same trial were given one-year prison sentences each, as the court determined they were collaborating with Sunon in transporting the migrants but were not involved in organizing the trafficking. They were convicted of harboring illegal aliens. Sunon was convicted on major evidence showing bank transactions and telephone contacts relating to the trafficking syndicate.

According to the Human Rights and Development Foundation, a civil society group, 18 other people alleged to have arranged the boats that brought the Rohingya to Thailand and facilitated their trafficking are in custody and have been indicted on human trafficking offenses. They are among the 100-plus other suspects being tried in the Criminal Court’s Human Trafficking Division.

That case also led to the discovery of mass graves of trafficking victims on both sides of the Thai-Malaysia border. Last week, the Thai government agreed to extradite 10 people Malaysia wants to put on trial for involvement in those crimes.

“The extradition will allow us to take the culprits to court. We don’t want the international community to have this notion that Malaysia not only condones but also partakes in trafficking. We certainly don’t tolerate such heinous crime against fellow human beings,” said Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

He added that Malaysia and Thailand had agreed to look into the issue of dual citizenship held by those residing in border towns, causing security concerns to the Thai authorities.