BANGKOK — Prosecutors in Thailand indicted 72 people on Friday, accusing them of involvement in a multinational human trafficking syndicate. The indictments were filed three days before the expected release of an annual State Department report on human trafficking in countries around the world, including Thailand.
The situation in Southeast Asia in particular has drawn global attention in recent months to the plight of some of the world’s most persecuted and vulnerable people. The indicted suspects, who were already in custody, include a Thai Army general, Lt. Gen. Manas Kongpaen, as well as other military officials, senior police officers, local officials and local politicians.
Thailand has been conducting a sweeping investigation into human trafficking within its borders, after graves containing more than 30 bodies were found in southern Thailand in May. An additional 139 shallow graves, also believed to hold the bodies of migrants, were found in camps across the border in Malaysia.
As governments in the region cracked down on smuggling networks, hundreds of migrants from the predominantly Muslim Rohingya minority who were seeking to escape conflict and poverty in Myanmar and Bangladesh were then left stranded on boats off Thailand and Malaysia.
Thai prosecutors charged the suspects on Friday with 16 different crimes related to human trafficking. The case was described as a “transnational offense” involving a “large human trafficking network covering many areas,” the prosecutors said in a statement.
“We will not let influential people rise above justice,” Wanchai Roujanavong, a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, told reporters.
Anadditional 32 suspects, including five from Myanmar and three from Bangladesh, remain at large, according to the prosecutors’ statement. The attorney general’s office said Thailand will seek the extradition of any who flee abroad.
The State Department is scheduled to release its annual Trafficking in Persons report on Monday. In last year’s assessment, the department downgraded Thailand to its lowest rank, Tier 3, reflecting disapproval of the Thai government’s response to human trafficking.