Thai court sentences 3 to long prison terms for 2019 Bangkok blasts

Wilawan Watcharasakwej and Mariyam Ahmad
Bangkok and Pattani, Thailand
Thai court sentences 3 to long prison terms for 2019 Bangkok blasts A policeman runs a bomb detector through a bed of flowers at the scene of an explosion in Bangkok, Aug. 2, 2019.
[Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP]

A Bangkok criminal court on Monday sentenced three men from Thailand’s insurgency-stricken Deep South region to 40 and 50 years in prison for a series of bomb attacks that injured four people in the Thai capital in 2019.

Nine bombs were detonated at five locations in Bangkok in August 2019, when the Thai government was hosting a series of meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including ones also attended by top diplomats from the United States, China and other countries.

One of the bombs went off in front of the national police bureau, only a few hundred yards from the venue of the ASEAN meetings.

The Ratchada Criminal Court convicted defendants Lu-ai Sae-ngae, 27, Wildon Maha, 33, Muhammad Illum Sa-I, 31, of terrorism, forming a crime syndicate and attempted murder, according to court officials and a defense attorney.

Muhammad was found guilty of all the bombings and sentenced to 170 years in prison, although his term was reduced to 50 years because of a legal cap on prison sentences.

“The third defendant [Muhammad Illum Sa-I] was found guilty of terrorizing, premeditated attempted murder and utilizing explosives on several counts. … He is sentenced to 170 years and 8 months,” the Bangkok court ruled.

“Due to … the rule of … limitations, the sentence is capped to 50 years in jail.”

The other two men were found responsible for two of the explosions and sentenced to life, but their terms were reduced to 40 years because they had been cooperative during the trial, the court said.

Upon hearing the verdict, Muhammad’s mother burst into tears and hugged her son in the courtroom for several minutes.

“We will fight the case. We are consulting with the lawyer,” she later told BenarNews, asking to not be named over security concerns.   

The defendants’ lawyer said the court had failed to thoroughly consider his clients’ accounts during the trial and that he would appeal the verdict.

“The court based the hearings on the CCTV footage and listened to the prosecutors without much cross-examinations of the defendants’ witnesses,” defense attorney Kitcha Ali-Ishoh told BenarNews.

“All the defendants denied all along they were not the individuals seen [on the CCTV footage].”

The court however said Muhammad was seen on CCTV planting an explosive-laden can in front of the national police bureau, while Wildon kept watch. Investigators had also traced that all three traveled from one place to another before fleeing to Thailand’s far south.   

Aim to disrupt ASEAN meetings

Meanwhile, a human rights advocacy group that assisted the defendants said the three men claimed they were beaten and forced into confessing their guilt.

“It was disappointing the court did not address the complaint that they were tortured and [therefore] pled guilty,” Pornpen Kongkachonkiet, director of the Cross Cultural Foundation, told BenarNews.

At that time of the bombings, then-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said the blasts were an attempt to ruin the ASEAN meetings, which were being attended by then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then-Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other top diplomats from more than 30 countries.

Officials in the Deep South told BenarNews back then that members of the most powerful insurgent group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), was behind the blasts in Bangkok.

The bombings were aimed at drawing international attention to the ongoing violence in the three Malay-speaking and mainly Muslim provinces near Thailand’s southern border.

Roadside bombings and other attacks by insurgents occur often in the Deep South, but are far less frequent in Thailand’s capital.

A pipe bomb packed with TNT exploded at the Erawan Shrine during rush hour in central Bangkok on Aug. 17, 2015, killing 20 people and injuring more than 125 others. This case is still being heard.

On April 5, 2017, two women were injured when a pipe bomb blew up near Bangkok’s Grand Palace and Monument of Democracy.

About six weeks later, a retired engineer set off a pipe bomb that injured 21 people at a Bangkok military hospital. The explosion occurred on May 22, the third anniversary of a military coup that overthrew the democratic government of Yingluck Shinawatra. The suspect, Watana Pumret, was sentenced to 31 years in prison.

In September 2018, a criminal court sentenced a man from the Deep South, Mubarina Kana, to six years in prison for car-bomb attacks in Bangkok and the capital’s perimeter in 2016. No one was killed in that attack.

Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.