Bangkok shrine-bombing trial turns farcical over translator trouble

Uighurs on trial for Bangkok shrine bombing say they cannot understand court proceedings.

BANGKOK // The trial of two Chinese Uighurs accused of killing 20 people by bombing a shrine in Bangkok was postponed for a second time because there were no suitable translators.

The two suspects, Yusufu Mieraili and Bilal Mohammed turned down a court-appointed translator, saying they could not understand her well enough. The postponement on Thursday only added a new farcical element to a case that has appeared flawed from the start.

The attack happened in August 2015 when explosives, apparently left in rucksack, went off in a Hindu shrine which is also popular with tourists. More than a dozen ethnic Chinese tourists were among the dead.

The timing of the attack prompted speculation that it was to protest against Thailand’s growing closeness to China. Thailand as a transit country for Uighurs, a Muslim minority from China who speak a Turkic language and, according to human rights activists, face religious and cultural oppression.

Some weeks before the shrine attack, Thailand’s governing junta had forcibly repatriated 109 Uighurs back to China. Yusufu and Mohammed were arrested a few days after the bombing and have been in custody ever since. Both deny the charges.

The Thai authorities have rejected the protest motive and insist the bombing was in retaliation for a crackdown on a people-smuggling gang.

On Thursday a court-appointed translator — a female Uzbek immigration detainee — was turned down by both defendants.

“I can understand (the Uzbek) translator ... but not well,” Yusufu told the military court in English.

The military prosecutor had earlier refused a translator provided by the defence, according to a judge, who told the court that “the case is a security matter ... so the court provided a translator from immigration (detention centre).”

The judge than said a new translator would be found and postponed the case until October 13.

The case was first delayed in August when the translator for the accused, another Uzbek national, fled after he was hit with drug possession charges.

Sirojiddin Bakhodirov accused police of planting drugs on him as punishment for helping Thailand’s Uighur community. The police deny the accusation.

“Getting proper translation is a serious matter and not easy for any court,” said Sam Zarifi, of the International Commission of Jurists.

“But this is a very high-profile case for the Thai government and they’ve had months to prepare so it’s unclear why they can’t provide the necessary translation, while the suspects are being held without a trial.”

The prosecution accuses Mohammed of placing the bomb inside a backpack at the shrine and say Mieraili was involved in transporting the device.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 15, 2016 04:00 AM

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