By Chularat Saengpassa
The Court of Appeals yesterday convicted six defendants, including Somphon “Ko Nang” Jirojmontri, former president of Trang’s Fisheries Association, and Wichai Riabroi, a security guard who supervised the human-trafficking victims. It also upheld the lower court’s order that the defendants pay Bt1.99 million compensation to the migrants.
However, the court upheld Prawit’s appeal against conviction, saying there had not been sufficient evidence to back allegations that he had forced the victims to work under harsh conditions.
The court also reduced the prison sentences against Somphon, Somjit “Mae Saw” Srisawang, and her husband Phaiwong Chaiphonrit to 10 years from 14, ruling that their crimes had occurred when the old law on human trafficking was still in effect and carried only a maximum punishment of 10 years.
“This is an interesting case on debt bondage,” Papop Siamhan, coordinator of the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) Anti-Human Trafficking in Labour Project, said yesterday.
He said the 15 victims were forced to work like slaves because their agents told them that they had to repay the huge debts incurred in trying to find them jobs in Thailand.
“The victims will get compensation when the case gets a final court ruling. As for now, we plan to appeal to the Supreme Court over the Appeals Court’s decision,” Papop said. At present, all victims have already returned to Myanmar.
In Papop’s opinion, the captain of the fishing trawler should have also been convicted.
He said his legal team would definitely appeal to the Supreme Court.
“But given that we will have to prepare many documents, we hope we will be allowed to lodge the petition in 60 days, not just 30 days, after the Appeals Court’s verdict came out,” he said.
The case was highlighted in the media in October 2015, when authorities stepped in to help 15 fishing workers from Myanmar who had reportedly been held |captive, subjected to physical |violence and denied their full wages.
Authorities then tracked down Somphon, the managing partner of the Boonlarp Fishery Limited Partnership. He was arrested on November 7, 2015 with several others on charges related to the trafficking of at least three people, an offence against the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act BE 2551 (2008).
A new anti-trafficking law came to into effect early last year, prescribing harsher punishments for offenders.
The first court to hear the case convicted six defendants, including Prawit, last March and acquitted Wichai, but the Appeals Court then dropped the case against Prawit and convicted Wichai instead.