A Malaysian court on Thursday sentenced a Bangladeshi man to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to three counts of human smuggling in an area where 106 migrant graves were discovered in May 2015, local media reported.
Nurul Islam, 32, admitted in the High Court of northern Perlis state to smuggling three of his countrymen into Malaysia through the Wang Kelian area, where the graves were found, between October 2014 and May 2015, The Sun Daily of Malaysia reported.
Judicial Commissioner Abu Bakar Katar sentenced him to 10 years for each charge and ordered the jail terms to run concurrently from the date of his arrest on May 2, 2016. Charges were lodged under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act (2007).
Three other men – two Rohingya and a Thai national – have been found guilty of smuggling people through camps in the mountainous area, but they have not yet been sentenced.
Wearing a pink baju Melayu and kopiah, Nurul Islam sobbed in the dock of the court room after the charges were read to him by an interpreter in his mother tongue. He was not represented by a lawyer in court, The Sun report said.
During the hearing Thursday, Nurul Islam claimed he was forced to commit the offenses by another agent of a smuggling syndicate who would beat him if he refused to follow orders. He said he was paid RM 1,800 (U.S. $445) a month, according to The New Straits Times.
Nurul Islam asked the court for leniency as he had three young children and an elderly father to care for in his home country.
“Nobody will take care of them when I am in jail. I just want to go home,” he said, according to The Sun Daily.
In May 2015, police exhumed 106 bodies, believed to be ethnic Rohingyas and Bangladeshis, from illegal detention camps in Bukit Genting Perah and Bukit Wang Burma, a few hundred meters away from the Malaysia-Thai border in Wang Kelian.
Earlier that same month, mass graves containing at least 36 bodies were discovered on the Thai side of the border, leading to a crackdown on people smuggling by Thailand and the subsequent sudden arrival of close to 3,000 Rohingya and Bangladesh migrants in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Ninety-two people including a Thai general are being prosecuted for human smuggling in Thailand as a result of the crackdown in that country.
“Human trafficking is a big business in southern Thailand; thousands cross between the borders into Malaysia and Thailand every day,” Glorene Das of Tenaganita, a Kuala Lumpur-based group that advocates migrant rights, said in May 2015 after the initial discovery of graves.
Departures of human smuggling boats from Myanmar and Bangladesh have decreased significantly since then, according to Matthew Smith, director of Fortify Rights, an NGO working in the region.
“In some ways, the situation has improved drastically. This time last year there were several thousand Rohingya being held in torture camps in Thailand. Today, those camps no longer exist,” he told BenarNews in an interview in May 2016.
He attributed that largely to the crackdown in Thailand and political changes in Myanmar.
“Malaysian authorities have categorically failed to prosecute any traffickers involved in trafficking Rohingya. Malaysia only prosecuted three traffickers last year. Many traffickers roam free with no fear of justice knocking on their door. That’s a problem,” he said.