Malaysia charges Thai nationals with human trafficking over mass graves discovery

A Malaysian court charged four Thai nationals on Friday with trafficking migrants from Myanmar, a day after Thailand extradited citizens for the first time in a bid to show it would crack down hard on human smuggling.
The Thais were charged in a case related to the 2015 discovery of more than 100 graves of Rohingya and Bangladeshi human smuggling victims found near Malaysia’s border with Thailand. If they are found guilty, the suspects face a maximum of 15 years in jail and a fine, or both.
The four, who were not represented by lawyers, were charged under Malaysia’s anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling of migrants’ laws, under which fall non-bailable offenses. 
The accused nodded in understanding when the charges were read out in Thai by a court interpreter before Judge Musyiri Peet at the Sessions Court in the northern state of Perlis.
The next court date is set for July 25, Musyiri said.
According to the chargesheet, the four Thai suspects are Kaeofainok, 30, Jepha Lapi-E, 51, Somphon A-dam, 51, and Amree Nesalaeh, 58.
Arun, Jepha and Somphon trafficked a Myanmar national, Mohd Belal, between August and March 2014 at Wang Kelian in Padang Besar, a district in Perlis.
The fourth accused, Amree, allegedly trafficked another Myanmar national, Zedul Islam, between February and April 2013 at the same location.
In Bangkok on Friday, Thai Police Gen. Surachate Hakparn said that sending the four suspects to Malaysia constituted a “historical extradition.”
“The cooperation will show the world that we take this trafficking in persons issue seriously and are ready to combat every kind of transnational crime from now on through the strong international link between national authorities like today,” he said.
Malaysia in 2017 had sought the extradition of 10 suspects from Thailand, but Thai authorities said one of them was from Bangladesh. 
“The nine suspects wanted by Malaysia were found involved in human trafficking,” said Surachate, the deputy national police chief.
“They [victims] were looking for a better chance in life but were cheated, coerced, detained in the jungle and finally killed.”
Of the remaining suspects, Surachate said only one or two were still serving jail terms in Thailand while the rest had died. He did not give details.
“When they finish [serving their sentence], we will send them over to Perlis [in Malaysia],” he said.
Thai police guard four citizens set to be extradited to Malaysia in connection with the 2015 discovery of mass graves containing remains of human smuggling victims, in Bangkok, June 22, 2023. Courtesy: Royal Thai Police
Meanwhile, in Perlis, Deputy Police Chief Baderulhisham Baharudin told the media after the court proceedings that another Thai suspect in the Wang Kelian case had been arrested in Johor state last year and was charged in April with human trafficking.
The suspect Suchat Tohdin, 34, a food stall trader, allegedly trafficked a Myanmar national between August 2014 and March 2015 at Bukit Wang Burma, Wang Kelian. His trial is still pending, Baderulhisham said.
In January 2015, Malaysian authorities found 139 mass graves and 28 abandoned camps scattered near the rocky hills along the Thai-Malaysia border at Bukit Wang Burma in Wang Kelian, but waited four months to exhume the bodies.
More than 100 skeletal remains, believed to be those of members of Myanmar’s stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, were found in the graves while other remains apparently belonged to undocumented migrants from Bangladesh.
No Malaysian has been charged in connection with the 2015 discovery. Only four foreign nationals have been convicted and imprisoned.
But in Thailand, prosecutors tried 102 people linked to 32 graves found on its side of the border in May 2015. Of the 62 people convicted, one was a three-star general, who died in prison while serving an 82-year sentence.
BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news organization.


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