Rights groups praise human trafficking convictions

Human Rights Watch and other advocacy groups praised Thailand last week after an army general and 61 other defendants, many of them officials, were convicted in the country’s biggest-ever human trafficking trial, with sentences ranging from four to 94 years. The case stemmed from the trafficking of Rohingya migrants from Myanmar, as the Thai government lived up to its promise of getting tough on transnational trafficking syndicates.

The “criminal court’s sentencing of 62 people, including a military general, to long prison terms for their mistreatment of Rohingya migrants is a major step in combatting human trafficking in Thailand,” Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said. “These sentences should send a clear message to human traffickers in Thailand that they face severe punishment whatever their rank or status.”

The trial was the result of a major investigation and arrests after the discovery of mass graves at a jungle camp in southern Songkhla province in May 2015. Among those sentenced last week, however, were several high-ranking and mid-level officials. Among the officials convicted were: Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan, former army advisor (27 years in prison); Bannajong Pongphol, former mayor of Padang Besar district in Narathiwat province (78 years); Prasit Lemleh, former deputy mayor of Padang Besar district (78 years); and Pajuban Aungchotiphan, former administrative officer of Satun province (75 years).

Meanwhile, the government pressed on with its pursuit of officials involved in corruption and other wrongdoings beyond trafficking. Last week, the National Council for Peace and Order suspended 70 government officials suspected of graft or abuse of authority while their cases are investigated.

Many held powerful positions in provincial and local administrations, while some others were elected politicians at the local level.