A Malaysian judge in the northern state of Kedah on Monday charged five men with kidnapping nine immigrants and demanding stiff ransoms from relatives back home in Bangladesh.
The victims – eight Bangladeshis and a Myanmar national – “were weak, starved and had their legs chained” when police rescued them on Sept. 6 from a house in Pedang, on the outskirts of Alor Setar, the capital of Kedah, the Bernama news agency reported at the time.
The rescue came after police received a tip that six Bangladeshi men had been abducted from a construction site in Sungai Petani, in the southern part of Kedah. The three other victims had been kidnapped in Perak and Kuala Lumpur.
Kedah police chief Asri Yusoff said the victims’ families in Bangladesh had received threats that the victims would be killed if a ransom of 15,000 ringgit (U.S. $3,600) each was not paid, according to Bernama.
Malaysians Mohd Ibroni Abdullah, 36, and Zainal Nayan, 32, Myanmar nationals Zangir Alam and Saiful Shona Miya, and Bangladesh citizen Abul Husin Akhbar appeared in court Monday to face charges related to abducting, illegally detaining and confining the nine immigrants.
A judge in Alor Setar Magistrate Court charged the five under Section 3 of the Kidnapping Act of 1961 and Section 34 of the penal code, which carry a mandatory death sentence or life in prison upon conviction.
The judge ordered the five, who were not represented by counsel, to be held without bail, and set Oct. 24 as the next court date, pending appointment of an interpreter for the foreigners.
The northern states of Kedah and Perlis have been in the news for human smuggling activities in recent years involving several towns along with border with Thailand.
In May 2015, Malaysian officials discovered 139 graves containing 106 corpses in abandoned human smuggling camps hundreds of meters from the Thai-Malaysia border, near the town of Wang Kelian, Perlis.
The same month, 36 corpses were found in similar sites on the Thai side of the border.
Following that discovery, Thailand launched a crackdown on human smuggling that triggered a humanitarian crisis. Close to 3,000 ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh nationals, abandoned by their handlers, suddenly came ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia.
As many as 103 individuals, including a Thai army general, are on trial for human smuggling in Thailand, a lawyer involved in the case told BenarNews.
To date, however, Malaysia has prosecuted only three individuals for human trafficking stemming from the Wang Kelian case.