A Thai military court has put on trial two foreigners accused of bombing a Hindu shrine in Bangkok in 2015 that killed 20 people and injured more than 120. It was one of the deadliest attacks in the country in decades.
The ethnic Uighur defendants of Chinese nationality were driven straight into the military court building Tuesday, preventing reporters from approaching them.
Mieraili Yusufu and Bilal Mohammad are accused of being behind the August 17, 2015 bombing of the Erawan shrine that killed 20 people - 14 of them tourists.
Prosecutors accuse Mohammed of placing the bomb inside a backpack at the shrine and say Mieraili was involved in transporting the device.
Both have pleaded not guilty at a recent pre-trial hearing where they broke down in tears and complained of mistreatment at the hands of authorities which he said threatened him with deportation and menaced him with a police dog.
Defense attorneys say they don't expect proceedings to be swift.
"Today is the first day for witness testimony ... I think it (the trial) will last until next year. It will take quite some time," Chuchart Kanpai, a defense attorney said.
Prosecutors allege the bombing was revenge by a people-smuggling gang whose activities were disrupted by a crackdown.
But others speculate the violence could be the work of Uighur separatists angry that Thailand in July had forcibly repatriated scores of their brethren to China, where they could face persecuted.
Thai national Kanya Mayoon, 36, lost her sister Prani Srisuwa in the bombing and says he's not convinced authorities are interested in getting real answers.
"It seemed like they just wanted to close the case quickly," she told the AFP news agency. "I just want the real masterminds to be arrested and punished."
The shrine is popular among ethnic Chinese tourists, who made up a majority of the dead with five from Malaysia, five from China and two from Hong Kong.
Thailand's military courts were strengthened to try civilians in "national security" cases after a May 2014 military coup. The defendants have been held at an army base since their arrest in late August and early September 2015.
No other details of their interrogation have been revealed.
Some of the 15 other suspects are Turks, with whom Uighurs share ethnic bonds, and Turkey is home to a large Uighur community.
The August 17, 2015 bombing of the Erawan shrine in Bangkok's most popular shopping district of Ratchaprasong was one of the deadliest acts of violence in Thailand in decades.
One of the deadliest attacks in decades
The Uighur minority claims cultural and religious repression in their homeland of Xinjiang in northwest China, and many have fled the restive region in recent years.
Thai police's conduct raised questions when the office's then-chief - who has since gone on to become head of Thailand's soccer federation - awarded his officers an $80,000 reward that had been open to the public.
jar/rc (AP, AFP)