Two Uyghur men pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the Aug. 17, 2015, bombing at a Hindu Shrine in central Bangkok that killed 20 people and injured 120 more.
Appearing in a Thai military court, Adem Karadag, 31, and Yusufu Meiraili, 28, both identified themselves as Uyghurs from Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Karadag’s lawyer claimed he entered Thailand on Aug. 21, days after the attack, so could not be responsible.
He also alleged that unidentified officials tortured Karadag in custody with water boarding, dog intimidation and a threat to return him to Chinese authorities.
“The said actions were aimed at forcing him to admit that he was the suspected bomber who planted the bomb seen in security camera records,” lawyer Chuchart Kanpai told reporters.
Uyghur and English translators were present as Karadag and Mieraili heard the charges against them and pleaded innocent.
Mieraili challenged the court for his incarceration. “It is not the right thing to have detained a Muslim for too long,” Meiraili said through an English translator.
Potential death sentences
Karadag, aka Bilal Mohammad, was arrested on Aug. 29, 2015, after police said they had found bomb-making materials at an apartment in Bangkok’s suburban Nongjok district. He was charged with offenses ranging from premeditated killing and bomb possession to illegal entry into Thailand, and could face a death sentence if convicted.
Mieraili was arrested on Sept. 1, 2015, while attempting to flee to neighboring Cambodia, police allege. Investigators claim he was attempting to acquire materials to make bombs. He could face a death sentence as well if convicted.
In the days following their arrests, both men participated in police-staged reenactments of the alleged events leading to the bombing.
The attack at the Hindu shrine, popular with both Thais and foreign tourists, took place during the busy evening rush time. A security camera captured footage of a man leaving a backpack on a bench at the shrine moments before the blast.
A pipe bomb explosion the next day near Sathorn passenger pier, some five miles from the shrine, caused no injuries.
No group claimed responsibility for the attacks.
In September, then-police chief Pol. Gen. Somyos Poompanmuang told a press conference that a Uyghur group had carried out the attack to wreak revenge on Thai authorities for clamping down on them.
“We believe the motive behind this incident stemmed from government officials arresting or cracking down on a human trafficking ring,” he said at the time.
In June, Thai authorities forcibly repatriated nearly 100 Uyghurs to China, drawing criticism and protests from rights activists and Uyghur advocates who say the Muslim minority suffers harsh repression in China.
The next court hearings in the Erawan case are scheduled between April 20 and 22.
Thai investigators claim as many as 15 more suspects are wanted for their roles in the attacks, including a man who hurled a bomb near the Sathorn pier.
Reported by RFA.