Thailand's Bangkok shrine bomb trial postponed due to missing translator

The two suspects of the Bangkok blast sit in a prison pick-up truck as they arrive at the military court in Bangkok on June 1.
The two suspects of the Bangkok blast sit in a prison pick-up truck as they arrive at the military court in Bangkok on June 1. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (AFP) - The trial of two Chinese Uighurs accused of planting a deadly bomb in Bangkok last year was postponed Tuesday (Aug 23) because the defence was unable to produce a Uighur translator, the military court ruled.

Yusufu Mieraili and Bilal Mohammed, both members of China's Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, are accused of planting a bomb at a popular Hindu shrine in the heart of the Thai capital in August 2015.

The blast killed 20 and wounded more than 100 people, making it the worst assault on Thai soil in recent history.

Thai authorities have been criticised for a murky investigation that appeared to wind down shortly after the arrest of the two men, leaving more than a dozen key suspects at large.

The case was further complicated after the pair's sole translator, an Uzbek national, was arrested on drug charges in June.

He is on the run and the defence has been unable to secure a new translator in time, the defendant's lawyer told the military court Tuesday.

The judge agreed to postpone the trial until the next hearing date on Sept 15, according to an AFP reporter inside the courtroom, where note-taking is banned.

The translator accused police of planting drugs on him as punishment for helping Thailand's Uighurs - a Muslim minority that rights groups say face persecution in their homeland in northwest China, forcing many to flee.

Many analysts believe the bombing was a retaliation for the Thai junta's forcible repatriation of 109 Uighurs to China several weeks before the attack.

But Thai authorities have insisted the two incidents are unrelated.

On Tuesday the defendants - who deny involvement in the attack - were escorted by security officers to the back entrance of a military court in the junta-ruled country.

They have spent the past year held in a jail inside a military barracks, where Mohammed has accused his captors of beatings and denying him halal food.

Thai authorities have denied those allegations.

Mohammed, also known as Adem Karadag, is accused of being the man seen on CCTV footage placing a backpack at the Erawan shrine moments before the explosion.

Prosecutors say he was caught a few days later in a Bangkok flat surrounded by explosives.

Mieraili is accused of delivering the backpack bomb.