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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Trafficking case ends in aquittals at Thai court

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Migrant workers repair a net on a thai fishing boat in Thailand's Rayong province. Nicolas Asfouri/AFP

Trafficking case ends in aquittals at Thai court

A provincial court in Thailand on Tuesday acquitted two people in a human trafficking case involving four Cambodians rescued from a fishing vessel early last year, according to a press release by the Human Rights and Development Foundation Thailand.

The two accused, captain Banjob Kaenkaew and fish market owner Somchai Jettanapornsamran, were accused of trafficking in persons by forcing the men to work and depriving them of their liberty.

The victims were four Cambodians who worked on a boat for 13 months before being rescued. According to the press release, the Provincial Court of Ranong argued that the case did not constitute trafficking because the victims voluntarily boarded the boat and “should have known that the boats were fishing”, according to the press release summarising the judgment.

The court also argued that that alleged 22-hour work days cited by the victims were physically impossible, and noted that it was “convinced that the reason the victims had reported the case against the defendants was simply to demand their overdue wages and overtime pay” – the matter of which, it said, was the jurisdiction of a specialised labour court.

The acquittal was condemned by Daniel Murphy, a consultant for Human Rights Watch and International Labor Rights Forum, who has done extensive research on trafficking. “This is a shocking example of a Thai court’s failure to hold traffickers to account,” he said.

The working hours, Murphy said, corresponded to what multiple fishermen had told him. “Some of these men were beaten, threatened and half-starved aboard the boats,” he said.Yet, he said, Thai courts “often fail to successfully convict Thai nationals … involved in and benefiting from trafficking crimes”.

The Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking Department could not be reached yesterday, nor could the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour denied that economic conditions in Cambodia were forcing workers abroad.

“The unemployment rate in Cambodia is less than 1 percent,” he said before hanging up. Reports are common of Cambodians going to work in Thailand in search of better wages and living conditions, only to find themselves as victims of trafficking organisations.

A judgment in a second case related to the same rescue operation is expected March 23.

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