By Chularat Saengpassa
THE CRIMINAL Court yesterday convicted nine defendants for their role in a separatist movement and for plotting to stage car-bomb attacks in Greater Bangkok two years ago, despite their relatives tearfully insisting on their innocence.
Five other defendants in the case were acquitted due to weak evidence.
“I am very upset,” Mohsu Kadenghayee, 45, said after hearing the verdict.
Her son Usman was among the eight defendants sentenced to four years in jail for being part of a secret society and illegal association. The sentence was reduced from six years on grounds that the defendants had provided useful information.
Only one defendant, Mubaree Kana, was convicted of all three charges – being part of a secret society, illegal association and unauthorised possession of explosives. He was given six years in jail, reduced from nine years.
“Usman came to Bangkok just a few days before his arrest. He simply wanted a job,” protested Mohsu. “He was unarmed. How could he be a member of a secret society or illegal association?”
Usman, who is now 26, was arrested at a rented room in Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng area in October 2016 along with four other defendants. They were initially accused of using kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), a type of traditional narcotic.
Around the same time, several men from the deep South were also arrested, apparently in response to an intelligence report that suggested insurgents would stage car-bomb attacks in Bangkok or its adjacent provinces to promote their separatist ideology.
While most suspects were released soon, 13 including Usman were kept in police custody. Police also had an arrest warrant issued for suspect Tuan Hafit, who had rented the room where Usman was arrested.
Some of the defendants were then taken to military camps, where they confessed to the charges.
Citing the lack of evidence of physical assault, the court dismissed defendants’ claims that they had been tortured into confessing.
“How can a defendant produce evidence of torture carried out inside a military camp?” Kijja Alee-ishoh, Muslim Attorney Centre’s lawyer, lamented.
He said most defendants said they had been intimidated and hit in the ear. He also noted that when a complaint was lodged with the National Human Rights Commission, the agency took a while before contacting the defendants to verify their claims.
The sentences were assigned partly on the fact that Mubaree’s hands had traces of explosive, while the remaining eight had collaborated in the investigation.
Even though there were no direct witnesses to substantiate the charges, the court said it had adequate evidence to convict nine of the 14 defendants, because they were members of secret societies, which by their very nature operated in the dark.
Chalita Bundhuwong, a lecturer at Kasetsart University’s Faculty of Political Science, said she had closely followed this case and genuinely expected an acquittal for all defendants.
“The court formed its verdict based mainly on confessions made inside a military camp,” she complained. “How do you know what happened to defendants there?”
Human-rights activities have long dubbed this the “budu not bomb case”, because police only found budu sauce when raiding the defendants’ room. Budu sauce is widely consumed in the South.
Kijja said his team would appeal the verdict within 30 days, while Cross Cultural Foundation’s director Pornpen Khongkachonkiet said she hoped the convicts will be granted bail.
The five acquitted defendants were allowed to leave the Bangkok Remand Prison yesterday evening.