Erawan shrine bombing trial starts after months of delays
THE long-delayed trial of two Uighur men accused of bombing a Bangkok shrine finally kicked off yesterday as a military court allowed Beijing to supply translators for the suspects despite their objections.
Yusufu Mieraili and Bilal Mohammed are accused of planting a bomb at the Erawan shrine in Bangkok’s commercial heart in August 2015 that left 20 dead, mostly ethnic Chinese tourists.
The blast came weeks after Thailand’s junta forcibly repatriated 109 Uighurs to China, where rights activists say the Muslim minority faces cultural and religious repression.
The timing prompted speculation that the attack was part of a revenge plot against a country which had been a key transit hub for Uighurs as Thailand’s military leaders have grown closer to Beijing.
Thai authorities have rejected that theory saying the attackers were part of a people-smuggling network angered by a recent crackdown, a motive most analysts say is simply not compelling.
The trial of the two men, who have been held in military prison for over a year, was delayed several times as the court struggled to find a suitable interpreter and rejected one provided by the defence.
The hearing finally started yesterday after judges accepted two interpreters provided by the Chinese embassy and waved off objections from the defendants.
Uighurs, a Turkic minority, hail from China’s westernmost province, Xinjiang.
The first witness called by the prosecution yesterday was a police officer who was among the earliest to arrive on the scene after the bomb tore through the shrine, scattering debris and body parts.
Thailand’s junta has been criticised for a murky investigation that appeared to wind down shortly after the arrest of the two men, leaving more than a dozen named suspects – including alleged masterminds –still at large.
The trial is expected to last until early 2018 with the court only sitting for a few days each month. –
Bangkok bombing suspects Bilal Mohammed (left) and Yusufu Mieraili.