One of two ethnic Uighur Muslims from China accused of involvement in a deadly bombing at a Bangkok shrine last year broke down in front of cameras on Tuesday as he made his way into court.
Twenty people were killed and more than 120 injured in the bombing on August 17 at the Erawan Shrine, thronged by visitors to the Thai capital. Five of those who died were from China and two from Hong Kong.
Analysts, diplomats and even some officials suspected the attack was linked to sympathisers of the Uighur minority in western China angered by the Thai junta’s deportation of more than 100 Uighurs to China the previous month.
But Thai police said the perpetrators were members of a network that trafficked Uighur Muslims and launched the attack in anger at Thailand’s crackdown on the trade.
“I’m not an animal,” the shaven, shackled and barefoot Adem Karadag told a crowd of waiting reporters on Tuesday, as two guards led him into a military court in Bangkok’s old town. “I’m human, I’m human.”
He and fellow suspect Yusufu Mieraili, who were in court for a review of witnesses, have denied all the charges against them.
“We’re innocent, help us, help us, where are the human rights?” said a stony-faced Mieraili, as he emerged from a police car outside the court.
Lawyers said more than 250 witnesses could be called for the prosecution and defence. Karadag’s lawyer, Schoochart Kanpai, said he hoped the trial would be over by the end of 2016, but that it could drag on a year longer.
Police say Karadag was caught on CCTV footage at the shrine, sitting on a bench and slipping off a bulky backpack before walking away, just before the blast.
Most Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language, live in China’s violence-plagued Xinjiang region. Exiles and human rights groups say Uighurs chafe under government policies that restrict their culture and religion.
China denies this and blames Islamist militants for the rising violence.
Thai police have issued arrest warrants for 15 other people, eight of whom are thought to be either Turkish or in Turkey, according to the warrants and police statements.
Some Turks see themselves as sharing cultural and religious bonds with their Uighur “brothers”.