Thailand's top human trafficking cop requests asylum

Major General Paween Pongsirin fled to Australia after he said his investigation implicated members of the military and police force. 

Wason Wanichakorn/AP Photo
Thai soldiers secure a road near the Victory Monument in Bangkok. Thailand, once a poster child for democracy and freedom in turbulent Southeast Asia, has careened over the past two years from one image disaster to the next. First a military coup. Then revelations of slaves in the seafood industry and other human trafficking horrors. Now the country's top tracking cop is seeking asylum for fear of his life because his findings implicate members of the military.

A high-ranking member of Thailand’s police force charged with investigating human trafficking has fled to Australia and requested asylum.

Major General Paween Pongsirin said he made the decision to seek refuge because he believed his life was in danger after the investigation uncovered evidence that members of Thailand’s military and police force were participating in human trafficking operations.

Mr. Paween flew to Melbourne on a tourist visa this week, where he requested political protection.

“I worked in the trafficking area to help human beings who were in trouble,” he said. “But now it is me who is in trouble. I believe there should be some safe place for me, somewhere on this earth."

Paween began leading the investigation in May, after more than 30 bodies were found buried in graves near Thailand’s southern border with Malaysia.

Many refugees are escaping ethnic and religious persecution and poverty in Myanmar and Bangladesh, while Thailand is home to more than 430,000 stateless people, the most in the world.

Paween’s investigation has led to allegations of trafficking against 153 people, including at least one senior military official, though he said other government officials would be implicated. The suspected traffickers are accused of starving refugees and denying health treatment, among other offenses.

Thailand’s military has held leadership in the country since a coup d'état last year.

"He was brought in as a hard-nosed experienced investigator, someone who has a reputation for being incorruptible," said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch Asia to ABC News. "He now feels it is no longer safe to stay in Thailand."

Paween told the Guardian he resigned in November after the five-month investigations was halted. Despite his protests, Paween was transferred to southern Thailand, where he said "senior police" officials were linked to the human trafficking trade.

“Human trafficking is a big network that involves lots of the military, politicians and police,” he told the Guardian. “Unfortunately, those bad police and bad military are the ones that have power.”

Thai authorities told Reuters they were unaware of threats to Paween’s life.

Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have struggled to deal with the flood of refugees pouring into their countries. The three nations used military blockades earlier this year to turn away the refugees, leaving thousands stranded at sea. The International Organization for Migration said as a result hundreds of people died on the open water.

Last week, Thailand’s foreign minister called for a more integrated and vigorous approach to the migrant crisis.

William Lacy Swing, the IOM’s director indicated that, without measures such as short-term visas and the elimination of blockades, human trafficking would remain a major issue in the region and that “bad policies are unintentionally subsidizing the smugglers."

Paween said he fears the impending trial for the 153 accused traffickers may be compromised because of links to powerful people. The international community including the United States has been pressing Thailand to address the migrant crisis.  

“It is no exaggeration to say that this is a fundamental test case of the commitments that Thailand’s leaders have made to eradicate human trafficking,” Robertson said. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.