A few days ago, the BBC reported that “[t]he trial of two suspects accused of being behind a bomb attack that killed 20 people in August last year in central Bangkok is under way.” SBS Australia reported that this was a “long-delayed trial.” The two men appeared before a Military Court.
This delayed trial was “underway” for just one day. The military court will not convene again until 6 March 2017, and then it will continue hearing evidence from the same policeman who testified on the only day of the trial.
The bombing took place on 17 August 2015, inside the Erawan Shrine at the Ratchaprasong intersection in Bangkok, Thailand, killing 20 people and injuring 125. The two suspects, Adem Karadag, 31, also said to be known as Bilal Mohammed, was identified as the bomber on 26 September while being held in police custody. He was claimed to have confessed. Karadag later retracted his confession with his lawyer saying Karadag had been tortured. His co-defendant is Yusufu Mieraili, 26, who has denied the charges.
Thailand’s junta has been criticised for a murky investigation that appeared to wind down shortly after the arrest of the two men, leaving more than a dozen named suspects — including alleged masterminds — still at large.
Police and army officials also made confusing and often contradictory statements during the investigation.
“Murky” is a good description. And as it was murky in investigation, the military’s judicial system looks like being equally murky.
One of the reported problems with getting the trial underway has been getting interpreters for the defendants. The first interpreter was Sirojdolin Bakhodirov, said to be an Uzbek national. He came on board in February 2016. However, in late May 2016, he provided testimony to a military court that:
he was attacked and threatened by the four men [on] May 18, one day after both Uighur suspects broke down outside the court in front of the press and insisted on their innocence. He recalled that the men told him to stop “helping two Uighurs escape.”
“I worry about my life,” the 38-year-old interpreter told the court Wednesday in English. His remark was then translated into Thai by a police interpreter. “I have been changing the place to live for four times now.”
Based on his description of the attack, the perpetrators appeared likely to be police of junta thugs. As later events show, however, they could have been Chinese thugs, working in Thailand. Immediately after that, Bakhodirov was arrested by police accused of drug possession. He claimed the police planted the drugs on him and promptly jumped bail and went on the run.
The military court then approved two translators, despite the defendants objecting to them. Why did they object? As SBS reports, “[t]he decision to use translators provided by the Chinese embassy is controversial because Uighurs have fled the region for years alleging they are the victims of state-sponsored persecution and assimilation policies that favour China’s ethnic Han majority.”
When the Chinese Embassy supplied interpreters got to work, one of them, Abdulwali Aiyai, repeatedly stumbled over quite simple words. Khaosod states:
Over the course of the two-hour session at the military tribunal, it emerged that Aiyai was also not familiar with words such as “wig,” “grey,” “arrest warrants,” or “police jurisdiction,”….
Aiyai has a “background as a reporter for Chinese state media…”. The defendants’ lawyers had predictably “filed a formal protest seeking the interpreter be removed on grounds of a conflict of interest.” That didn’t worry the military court. This despite the fact that it had rejected another translator, “requested by the defense team was turned down by the court because he belonged to a Germany-based advocacy group China said it deemed a terror organization.”
Yes, this is a Thai military court, not a Chinese court, although the distinction seems moot.
The Chinese Embassy-employed translators were only introduced to the defendants and their lawyers as the trial began. On the day, even one of the defendants could correct the work of the Chinese “translators.”
When the delay was announced by the court, one of the defense lawyers said:
the decision to suspend the trial four months was agreed to by the judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and interpreters. They settled on the next date all parties would be available, he said.
“I did not have any problem. It can be whenever,” said Chamroen Panompakakorn. “But the military court and the prosecutors said they are busy during the year-end, as there are many cases concerning national security to be finished.”
The military courts have been inundated with cases ever since the junta began using them to prosecute civilians and dissidents on charges of sedition and insulting the royal family [lese majeste].
The “trial” could now extend well into 2018, with the defendants still in jail.
Murky? You bet. Even some of the comments of defense lawyers seem odd. If these reports are anything to go by, justice seems the least of the military court’s concerns. Higher concerns seem to be working with the Chinese, protecting the junta from bad publicity and protecting the investigators from having their evidence subjected to public scrutiny.