Ex-human trafficking investigator unbowed by Thai police legal threats

General Paween Pongsirin said the lack of support from his superiors in the Thai police force meant a transfer to the deep southern provinces would put him in danger of retaliatory attacks.

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“The human trafficking cases have involved many influential figures including authority officials with power and arms, local politicians and businessmen,” he told SBS Radio’s Thai program. 

“They have syndicates that can target me anytime in the deep south area. I would become their target.”

General Paween Pongsirin said he is seeking asylum in Australia because influential figures in the Thai government, military and police, who he says are implicated in the illicit trade, want him dead.

He said he could not seek protecting from the police force because his superiors indicated that his work prosecuting military officials was frowned upon.

“My superior did not protect me, did not have any empathy for me, who worked on the cases at the front line. When I am no longer a policeman and I have to testify for the cases, who is going to protect me?

“If my truthful testimony affects any influential people, will I be safe? That is why I am seeking asylum somewhere that is safe for me somewhere in the world where I can feel safe.”

He said he received a number of warnings and threats from other members of the police force while he was carrying out his work prosecuting people over trafficking.

“During the time I worked on the cases, I was always told that it was dangerous and I should stop pursuing the cases. I was told that many supervisors were not happy that I pursued arrest warrants against some military officials.

“But I kept working as hard as I could because I thought the human trafficking issue was declared a national agenda and I just did according to the evidence I had. But in the end I am the one who is in trouble.”

He said he is upset over the falling out with Thai police over work that he believes is important.

“I am sad about it. I never thought that I would be in this situation.”

Police Major General Paween Pongsirin arrived in Melbourne a few days ago and told the ABC on Thursday that he feared for his life because influential figures in the Thai government, military and police implicated in the illicit trade want him dead.

“There are some bad police and bad military who do these kind of things,” Paween told the broadcaster. “Unfortunately, those bad police and military are the ones that have power.”

Royal Thai Police chief Jakthip Chaijinda told reporters that he did not know why Paween fled but said a legal team was checking whether his comments were defamatory.

“I don’t know the reason why he had to go and speak about this issue but he should not talk about this because it could damage the country,” said Jakthip.

Paween resigned from his post as deputy commissioner of Provincial Police Region 8 in November, saying an order to transfer him to Thailand’s south would expose him to revenge by members of trafficking syndicates still at large.

Suspects he was investigating for trafficking were influential in the region, he said, and could target him. His resignation raised serious questions over Thailand’s commitment to end the human trafficking and protect its officers.

Thailand’s crackdown on lucrative smuggling gangs followed the discovery in May of 36 bodies in shallow graves hidden deep in a mountain near the Thailand-Malaysia border, which sparked international outcry.

Thailand has brought a case against 88 suspected human traffickers but examination of some 500 witnesses in the case could take as long as two years.

Paween was listed as a key witness to testify against officials and other individuals facing criminal charges over their alleged involvement in trafficking.

Jakthip said there were no issues with the trafficking case and that Paween was the only police officer to raise allegations of intimidation.

– Additional reporting by Reuters