Thailand Adopts Harsher Penalties for Human Trafficking

150326-TH-fishingboat-620 Burmese migrant workers man a fishing boat as it docks in Pattani, southern Thailand, June 18, 2014.

Lawmakers in Thailand – which is under international pressure and the glare of news reports exposing the enslavement of foreign migrant workers in its lucrative fishing industry – on Thursday adopted a tougher set of punishments for human traffickers.

The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) voted 160-3 to amend the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act in a third reading in order to impose harsher penalties on human traffickers, as well as improve inspection and witness protection programs, the Bangkok Post reported.

Under the amendment, violators can face life imprisonment or capital punishment in cases where their victims die, according to Reuters. Those found guilty of gravely harming victims can face 20 years in prison and fines of up to 400,000 baht ($12,281).

“If the trafficked person dies in the hands of the trafficker, then the sentence can now be life in prison of even the death penalty,” Reuters quoted Police Gen. Chatchawan, the head of a committee that drafted the bill, as saying.

Calls for action from abroad

The Thai parliament passed the amendment a day after the United States and members of the American business community called on Thailand to go after people and companies in its seafood industry who allegedly force trafficked foreign migrants to work on its fishing fleets, according to the Associated Press.

On Wednesday, AP published a major expose on the enslavement of migrant workers in the Southeast Asian fishing industry.

AP’s investigation revealed that hundreds of men – mostly migrant workers from Burma – had been trafficked via Thailand to a remote island in Indonesia, where they were forced to fish. Part of their catch was processed at factories in Thailand, AP reported.

A significant portion of trafficking victims are found in the seafood industry, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said while briefing reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

“So for several years, the international community, including the United States, has expressed concern publicly – also directly, of course – over the forced labor of foreign migrants in the Thai fishing and on-land seafood industries,” Psaki said, according to an official transcript.

“And we continue to call on the Thai Government to take significantly greater steps to protect foreign migrants in the fishing and shrimp industries and to punish those who are enslaving workers.”

Thai government responds

After AP’s report came out, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying that 1.6 million foreign migrant workers, most of whom worked in the seafood industry, were registered with the government and enjoyed the same workplace protections as their Thai counterparts, according to AP.

The government also would monitor the industry more closely by installing surveillance systems on more than 7,700 fishing boats by June, AP reported.

It further noted that Thailand’s largest seafood firm, Thai Union Frozen Products, announced it had immediately cuts ties with a supplier named in the report.

The legislature’s amendment to the trafficking law also followed a diatribe against the media from Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha a day earlier.

He warned journalists not to report negatively about Thailand’s military-controlled government, the Thai fishing industry and other issues related to the country.

He went so far as to say that he would “execute” journalists whose reports were too critical of the government.

During his outburst on Wednesday, Prayuth apparently did not mention the AP report.

But he did call out a local television reporter, Thapanee Ietsrichai, for her own investigative reports about the alleged enslavement of foreigners working aboard Thai vessels fishing in waters off Indonesia.

“Please don’t escalate the news,” Khaosod quoted the prime minister as saying. “The media should consider the impact the news will have on the country.”

“Let me tell you now, Thapanee will have to come see officials,” he added.

By BenarNews staff with details from news reports.


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