The trial of three Thai nationals charged with trafficking and abusing eight Lao workers has begun in central Thailand’s Phetchaburi province amid a crackdown on illegal migrant laborers in the Southeast Asian country.
The Laotians – all members of the same family from Sanasomboun district, in southwestern Laos’ Champasak province near the borders with Thailand and Cambodia—had worked illegally on a lemon plantation in Phetchaburi province since 2011 until they were rescued last September.
Police Lt. Gen. Thammawutt Wichianmaneechot, director of the Thai anti-human trafficking unit in Phetchaburi province, told Radio Free Asia’s Lao Service, a sister entity of BenarNews, that the suspects have been charged with physical assault and detention, human trafficking, forcing people under the age of 17 to perform labor, and possessing illegal weapons.
“It is the duty of the jury to decide whether or not the employers as defendants are found guilty of human trafficking because they deny that they have committed human trafficking and insist it is just a wage payment-related case,” he said.
During the trial at Phetchaburi province court on July 6, the prosecutor called four witnesses, including two police officers who showed photos of a gun illegally possessed by the accused men and of their arrests when the men tried to conceal the weapon and flee the scene.
The officers also provided as evidence their daily notes on the matter and reports of the raid police conducted to rescue the Laotians and arrest their Thai employers.
Another witness was a representative from the Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation, who presented photos of scars on the Laotians’ bodies from injuries allegedly caused by the Thai men.
A representative from the Thai Social Development and Human Security Ministry who also testified said the eight Laotians were trafficked, beaten, and forced to perform hard labor in Thailand.
Attorneys representing the accused men denied all charges on behalf of their clients and said the evidence presented was based only on hearsay from the Laotians because the prosecutor had no photos of the alleged beatings.
Samak Thabthani, director of the Thai human trafficking prevention agency, told the court that he had provided assistance to the Laotians.
“I also repeated in court what the victims told me,” he said after the trial. “The opposite side denied all charges, but our lawyers will be working hard on this case. As of now the next court hearing date is still unknown.”
The eight Lao workers were not present in court because they had been sent back to Laos earlier this year after spending six months at a rehabilitation center.
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