Two Ugyhur men accused of bombing a Hindu shrine in Bangkok in 2015 have never been permitted to contact relatives, are not allowed time in a prison yard and are sometimes fed pork despite their Muslim faith, they told RFA-affiliated BenarNews this week.
Dressed in brown prison uniforms and wearing handcuffs and leg restraints, Uyghurs Adem Karadag and Yusufu Mieraili spoke to a BenarNews reporter as they left a scheduling hearing Monday in the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court following their first court appearance in two years.
“We are not allowed to make any phone calls in prison,” Karadag and Mieraili told BenarNews through an interpreter following the three-hour hearing. “Our families have not heard from us or are even aware of our arrests in 2015.”
The defendants said they have no books to read or paper to write on to send letters.
“Some of the meals contain pork even though we are Muslims,” they said. “The hardest part is that we are not allowed to step outside of the building and do not get to see the sky.”
Karadag and Mieraili have been housed at the military’s Lak Si temporary detention center since their arrests within two weeks of the blast that killed 20 people and injured more than 100 at the Erawan Shrine, a popular tourist site, on Aug. 17, 2015. It has been called the deadliest terror attack in modern Thailand.
A military court began hearing the charges against them in 2016 before the case was moved to a Bangkok civilian criminal court in 2019.
Karadag and Mieraili, who identified themselves as Uyghurs from Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China, pleaded not guilty before both courts. They could face death sentences if convicted of charges including premeditated killing and possession of explosives.
Chuchart Kanpai, the lawyer representing Karadag, said the defense and prosecution teams agreed that testimony would begin late this year.
“The prosecution requested interviews with 424 witnesses,” Chuchart told BenarNews. “The next questioning of a witness will be on Nov. 1, 2022.”
Mieraili lawyer Jamroen Panonpakakorn said the defendants will seek to question only five to 10 witnesses. The court scheduled sessions for Nov. 1 and 2, Nov. 22 through 25, and Dec. 6 through 9.
Over the years, the trial has been beset by delays linked to interpreters. A lawyer and an NGO worker assisting the Uyghurs with their defense previously said Karadag could not speak Chinese and would prefer a Uyghur-speaking translator while Mieraili can communicate in English, but not fluently.
On Monday, the Uyghurs met an interpreter proposed by the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok and signed documents accepting the arrangement. The interpreter was selected in August 2021 but was not able to travel to Thailand until this month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chalida Tajaroensuk, director of the People’s Empowerment Foundation, a Thai NGO, expressed concern about the decision.
“The defendant should have a basic right to choose the interpreter because it has a great impact on the case and it is a matter of life and death,” Chalida told BenarNews.
“We see that the court does not have an understanding of Uyghur and Chinese politics because the court should not employ an interpreter from the Chinese government under these political circumstances. It shows that this process of hiring an interpreter is not sensible.”
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.