More than 60 people were sentenced to jail by a Bangkok court on Wednesday in the largest human trafficking trial in Thailand’s history. Among those convicted is former army general Manas Kongpan, who was sentenced to 27 years for trafficking and organized transnational crime. The Thai newspaper The Nation reports that convictions for senior officials are “extremely rare” in Thailand, which is controlled by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), a military junta. In the wake of the verdict, Thailand’s prime minister and chief of the NCPO, Prayuth Chan-ocha, asked citizens not to brand the entire military as criminals, arguing that “there are many people in this human trafficking network.”
Also included in the list of convicted criminals are former local politicians Patchuban Angchotipan (“Ko-Tong”) and Bannakong Pongphol, who were sentenced to 75 years and 78 years, respectively. Overall, 62 out of 103 defendants were convicted for charges like human trafficking, murder, holding people for ransom, and the unlawful use of firearms or other weapons. All of the defendants pleaded “not guilty” to trafficking charges. Sentences ranged from four years to 94 years, though the maximum sentence under Thai criminal code is 50 years. Sunai Phasuk, a senior Thailand researcher for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters that some criminals could be eligible to receive the death penalty. “The fact that there are very senior officials charged with this crime will help deter criminals in trafficking networks in the future,” he added.