Thai media muzzled on human trafficking trial

BANGKOK • Dozens of people, including a general, arrested in Thailand's crackdown on human trafficking appeared in court yesterday to begin presenting their defence, but journalists were barred from reporting trial proceedings.

The kingdom has long been a major hub for human trafficking and people smuggling, with officials accused of turning a blind eye and even of complicity.

Thailand's junta launched a belated crackdown in 2015, a move that uncovered grim camps on the Thai- Malaysian border and led to dozens of arrests. But it also led to the sudden closure of the trafficking route, leaving thousands of people - mainly Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh - abandoned by gangmasters on land and at sea.

More than 80 suspects, including local officials and senior army general Manas Kongpan, packed into a chamber at Bangkok's main criminal court yesterday for the opening of their defence on an array of human trafficking charges.

Reporters watched proceedings on a television screen in a side room. But they were told by court officials that any reporting of what was said at the trial had been banned since the start of proceedings last year. No reason was given for the decision.

Thailand's generals seized power in 2014. Secret court hearings have since become more commonplace, particularly in military tribunals and for royal defamation prosecutions. But it is rare for such restrictions to be placed on a criminal trial.

The defence is expected to end by March.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'Thai media muzzled on human trafficking trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe