Jail Terms Sought for Thais, Indonesians for Trafficking Enslaved Fishermen

Burmese fishermen prepare to board a boat during a rescue operation April 3, 2015 at the compound of Pusaka Benjina Resources fishing company in Benjina, Aru Islands, Indonesia. Photo: Dita Alangkara / Associated Press

TUAL, Indonesia — Indonesian prosecutors are seeking prison sentences of up to 4 1/2 years for five Thais and three Indonesians accused of human trafficking in connection with slavery in the seafood industry.

The suspects were arrested in the remote island village of Benjina last May after the slavery was revealed by The Associated Press in a report two months earlier.

The victims — 13 fishermen from Myanmar who testified under protection of Indonesia's Witness and Victim Protection Agency — told the court that they had been tortured, forced to work up to 24 hours a day and were not paid. They also said they were locked up in a prison-like cell in the fishing company's compound.

In their sentencing demand, prosecutors on Friday sought 4 1/2-year sentences for Thai captain Youngyut Nitiwongchaeron and four countrymen – Boonsom Jaika, Surachai Maneephong, Hatsaphon Phaetjakreng and Somchit Korraneesuk – as well as Indonesian Hermanwir Martino.


They sought 3 1/2-year sentences for two other Indonesians, Yopi Hanorsian and Muklis Ohoitenan.

They also demanded that all eight defendants, who were tried by a three-judge panel led by Edy Toto Purba, pay a fine of 240 million rupiah (USD$18,000) each or serve three more months in jail.

Indonesian police have found that hundreds of foreign fishermen were recruited in Thailand and brought to Indonesia using fake immigration papers and seamen books and were subjected to brutal labor abuses.

More than 2,000 men from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos have been rescued and sent home this year from brutal conditions at sea as a result of an AP investigation into seafood brought to the United States from the slave island. Some had been held captive more than a decade after being trafficked onto Thai trawlers.

Prosecutors demanded that the five Thais pay compensation ranging from 50 million to 350 million rupiah (USD$3,750 to USD$26,000) to the 13 victims, who testified at the trials that began Nov. 16 at the district court in Tual, a municipality in southeastern Maluku province.

State prosecutors have charged the defendants with violating a law against people-smuggling that carries a maximum prison sentence of up to 15 years and a fine as high as USD$46,000.

In the investigation, at least five fishing boats used by the suspects for human trafficking and slavery-like practices were confiscated, along with dozens of fake passports and seamen books. Also, a multimillion-dollar Thai-Indonesian fishing business has been shut down.


All the defendants were employees at Pusaka Benjina Resources, one of the largest fishing firms in eastern Indonesia.

The hearing will resume March 4 to allow the defendants and defense lawyers to submit their responses to the sentencing demands.

Story: Associated Press