A senior army general was among 88 suspects who appeared in a Thai courtroom Tuesday to face charges of human trafficking.
The suspects are accused of trafficking Rohingya Muslims who undertook dangerous sea journeys to escape religious persecution and marginalization from Myanmar and Bangladesh. The trafficking took place between January 2011 and May of this year. They were arrested after Thai authorities launched a crackdown that led to the discovery of dozens of bodies of migrants buried near a detention camp in a jungle near the Thai-Malaysia border.
Prosecutors say the migrants were held for ransom in the camps or at sea, where they were starved, beaten, raped and murdered.
Around 600 Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants arrived at the coast of North Aceh with this Dragon Boat in early May. (Htike Htike/The Equal Harmony Together Foundation)
The case was potentially jeopardized when General Paween Pongsirin, the senior police investigator in the case, resigned and disbanded his unit after he was ordered to be transferred to Thailand's insurgency-plagued south. Paween said he feared his life would be in danger from traffickers seeking revenge for his probe.
Thailand launched the crackdown after the U.S. State Department listed it on the bottom tier of a list of countries that comply with minimum standards for combating human trafficking.