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2019 Bangkok shrine bombing suspects resume trial

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2015 Bangkok shrine bombing suspects resume trial
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BANGKOK — A Thai court resumed on Tuesday the long-delayed trial of two members of China’s Uyghur Muslim minority accused of carrying out a 2015 bombing of a Bangkok landmark that killed 20 people.

Another 120 people were injured in the August 17, 2015 bombing of the Erawan Shrine, popular with Chinese and other tourists.

Thai authorities said the bombing was revenge for a gang of smugglers whose activities had been interrupted by a crackdown. Thailand cracked down on human traffickers in early 2015 after abandoned camps for Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar and economic migrants from Bangladesh were found in the jungles along the Thailand-Malaysia border. . Authorities have given few details about what the connection to the bombing might be, but many Uyghurs are trying to escape persecution and strict control in China with the help of professional smugglers.

However, some analysts suspect the bombing was the work of Uyghur separatists angry over Thailand in July of the same year forcibly repatriating dozens of Uighurs to China. The shrine’s popularity among Chinese tourists appears to support the theory that the bombing had a political element.

The defendants, Mieraili Yusufu and Bilal Mohammad, pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial in 2016 and said they suffered ill-treatment and torture in prison after their arrest. Police said they believe Yusufu detonated the bomb minutes after a backpack containing the device was left at the shrine by Mohammad.

The last session of their trial, which has been repeatedly delayed by difficulties in finding suitable translators, took place in 2019, said Chuchart Kanpai, a lawyer for Mohammad. The case was then transferred from a military court that previously had jurisdiction to the Civilian Criminal Court in South Bangkok after a return to elected civilian rule following a military coup. But court proceedings were later suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it will take another two years before we see a result. This year the case will not progress much. We can only take two or three witnesses a day and we still have two to three hundred witnesses left from the plaintiff’s side,” he said.

The defendants are believed to be the only two suspects in custody out of 17 people authorities believe are responsible for the bombing. Some of the other suspects are Turks, with whom Uighurs share ethnic ties.

Police said the case against the two defendants is supported by security video, witnesses, DNA matches and physical evidence, in addition to the suspects’ alleged confessions.

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