A Thai army general and local politicians are among the dozens of people found guilty at a Bangkok court Wednesday in one of Thailand's largest human trafficking trials.
Thailand has faced international criticism for years over human trafficking in the country, and the rights group Fortify Rights called this trial an "unprecedented effort by Thai authorities to hold perpetrators of human trafficking accountable."
"The conviction of a senior Army officer was an extremely rare event in junta-ruled Thailand," according to Thai newspaper The Nation. Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpan was found guilty of trafficking and taking bribes, The Associated Press reported.
The case involved more than 100 defendants, and the judge spent all day reading a 500-page verdict to the court, The Nation reported. The full breakdown of convictions was not immediately available, and the sentences have not been announced.
"The trial began two years ago after the grisly discovery of dozens of shallow graves along the border — in what investigators say were jungle camps where traffickers held migrants hostage until their relatives paid to free them," reporter Michael Sullivan in Thailand tells NPR's Newscast unit. "Many of the dead were ethnic Rohingya, a long persecuted Muslim minority in neighboring Myanmar."
The identities of the dead have not been released, according to Reuters, and human rights campaigners say the trafficking networks are largely still in place.
Sullivan adds that police officers are also among the defendants.
"The court related testimony that not enough food and water was provided to the detained Rohingya, who faced death threats designed to prevent them from using their phones or fleeing the camp," The Nation reported. "The court also said it had been told that victims were beaten up when they asked for more food and water."
Amy Smith, Fortify Rights' executive director, said in a statement: "This may be the end of an important and unprecedented trial, but it's been a rocky road, and it's not 'case-closed' for survivors of human trafficking here. Thailand has a long way to go to ensure justice for thousands who were exploited, tortured, and killed by human traffickers during the last several years."
Investigators and witnesses in this trial faced significant intimidation and threats, Fortify Rights said.
The BBC added that "a senior policeman who led an investigation into human trafficking in Thailand, Major General Paween Pongsirin, fled to Australia fearing his life was in danger from influential figures implicated in trafficking in his country."
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