Trial begins over Thai shrine blast

Twenty died at the shrine. Photo / AP
Twenty died at the shrine. Photo / AP

A Thai military court rejected allegations by two foreign defendants that they were tortured in custody and refused to transfer them to a new prison while being tried on charges of bombing a popular Hindu shrine in Bangkok that left 20 people dead.

In previous preliminary hearings the two men have said they were tortured and mistreated by their jailors in a military detention, and yesterday pleaded to be moved to a different correctional facility.

"After investigating these claims, the court finds them to be false and the defendants will remain where they are since this is a case of national security," one of the three judges on the panel ruled.

The judges, who have not been identified in keeping with protocol in military trials, said the defendants' safety may be at risk in a regular correctional facility because of the high-profile nature of the case, and that they were safer in military detention.

The ruling came on the first day of the trial of the two ethnic Uighurs of Chinese nationality.

But the opening day, which was set aside for recording witness testimonies, got off to a shaky start when the court realised that there was no Uighur-language translator available. The hearings scheduled for the next two days were postponed to September 15 and 16.

The two men - Mieraili Yusufu and Bilal Mohammad, also known as Adem Karadag - have pleaded not guilty. They are the only two men in custody out of the 17 people that authorities say were responsible for the August 17, 2015, bombing of the Erawan shrine in Bangkok's most famous shopping district of Ratchaprasong. It was one of the deadliest acts of violence in Thailand in decades. The Erawan shrine, dedicated to Hindu god Brahma, is popular among tourists. Of the dead, 14 were tourists. Many Chinese were among the 120 people injured.

Thai authorities have said the bombing was revenge by a people-smuggling gang whose activities were disrupted by a crackdown. Some analysts suspected it might have been the work of Uighur separatists angry that Thailand in July had forcibly repatriated scores of Uighurs to China.

Chuchart Kanpai, the lawyer for one of the defendants, has told reporters that Bilal had been tortured to admit that he was the person seen in surveillance video planting the bomb.

Police say the case against the two men is supported by closed-circuit television footage, witnesses, DNA matching and physical evidence, in addition to their confessions. Police believe Yusufu detonated the bomb minutes after a backpack containing the device was left at the shrine by Bilal.

- AP

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