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Major General Paween Pongsirin: Thailand needs more honest cops

Good Cop v Traffickers: We Need Honest Men

Thursday, November 5, 2015
I WANT TO pen some personal thoughts about Paween Pongsirin, the Thai policeman we featured in 'Shallow Graves,' the television report on human trafficking in Thailand.

I wrote this commentary a few days ago after finding out the treatment he is receiving, apparently because he was a good and honest cop doing his job.

There was no better place for us to start investigating the human trafficking rings than Thailand. It was here where scores of graves were first discovered in May 2015.

The victims were Rohingya. They died of torture and starvation.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority fleeing from Myanmar - also known as Burma - where they are denied citizenship by the government and face systemic oppression and discrimination.

This discovery drew international condemnation and prompted the Thai government to launch a massive crackdown on the trafficking syndicates.

After two months of negotiating for access with the Thai authorities to film their investigation team, we finally received permission to proceed.

I remember my first meeting with Police Major General Paween Pongsirin vividly.

He was the lead investigator tasked to crackdown on the human trafficking trade. Back then, I was slightly restless and jittery. I was thinking: ''What if the cops suddenly deny us access or becomes uncooperative?''.

As a producer on the show 'Get Rea!,' I've had my fair share of nightmares when profiles back out.

After all, there was little motivation for the Thais to grant us access, the investigation had made some headway, and the police was already receiving much positive attention domestically.

But in moments of meeting Major General Paween, my fears dissipated.

Paween approaches everyone with warmness and is strikingly genuine. One can easily tell that he commands much respect from his team.

Police Major General Paween Pongsirin maybe an unknown figure outside Thailand but he is a legend in the Royal Thai Police Force.

He is the man higher-ups would call upon if they needed someone to fix a mess. Known to be incorruptible and hard-handed, Paween busted the infamous Phuket taxi mafia and the corrupt officers who dominated the transport trade last year.

Paween is also famous for efficiency. Within two months of his appointment as the chief investigator; Paween had arrested an Army general, a mayor, a well-connected businessman and many more.

Although the cops were already working non-stop without rest since investigations began in May, Paween was obliging and supportive towards our filming efforts.

We later found out that Paween, whose hometown is in Phuket, had to work at the Hat Yai headquarters, and had not seen his family for two months.

Paween's dedication and his leadership abilities left an impression.

He struck me as a no-nonsense cop whose goal was crystal clear - bring the perpetrators to justice.

I remember in July leaving Hat Yai back then feeling slightly optimistic. Thailand stood a good chance to clean up its human trafficking mess because they have Paween.

In August, I had to make a return trip to Hat Yai to pick up some shots for the documentary. I couldn't help but notice the stark difference just three weeks apart. Paween looked tired.

There was a sense of uneasiness among the investigation team.

We later found out, that for coming too close for comfort to the upper echelons in their investigations, Paween and his team faced with a high possibility of getting disbanded. Paween was fighting battles he knew he had little chances of winning.

I could tell he wasn't sleeping well, tormented by the burden of his responsibility. There were so many loose threads, so many leads to follow, so many dead souls to answer to.

I wrapped up the documentary feeling heavy-hearted. I was unable to fathom why people could even consider tearing up a great team of investigators who is sacrificing their lives and safety to stop human trafficking.

Having spent months on the documentary, listening to the sufferings of the victims, I too desperately want this unscrupulous human trade to end.

But it seems like Paween and all of us were waging a losing battle.

In the last week of September, I received news that the investigation team was ordered to wrap up and the team had to be disbanded by September 30.

Major General Paween was reassigned to the role of deputy commander of Yala province - one of three troubled deep-South border provinces.

Yala is reputed to be the heartland of human trafficking in Thailand. When he conducted the trafficking arrests, Major General Paween was based in Surat Thani, a province further north.

Being so close to the people he was trying to bring to justice exposes Paween to serious dangers. The Deep-South is notorious for attacks on police stations.

Fearing for his life, Paween is considering resignation.

I shudder to think how can this be a befitting end for such a hardworking and honest cop. Major General Paween was a beacon of hope but today he no longer shines.

Thailand needs to hold cop like Paween close to its chest because they don't just do their jobs; they inspire the next generation of cops (that's what the junior cops tell me).

If good governance, a clean reputation and moving the country's Trafficking in Persons ranking up from the lowest level is a priority, then Thailand has to start by cherishing men and women like Paween.

And keep to its rhetorical commitments to combat human trafficking.

I can't help but feel hopeless about the cracking down on the human trafficking trade.

There has been a lack of coordination between the countries involved and in Thailand, no support from the higher-ups.

With the monsoon season coming to an end in Myanmar, Rohingya will soon pour out their life savings to go on this treacherous journey to Malaysia once again.

And the world would be forced to bear witness to a repeat of the tragedy.I wonder how many times must history repeat itself before we finally learn.

*This is the personal view of Yan Zixin and the article is not sanctioned by Channel News Asia, for whom she worked as a producer on 'Shallow Graves.'

WATCH 'Shallow Graves,' from Channel News Asia
How a good cop helped Thailand turned the tables on trafficking, a nightmare that may not yet be over.

WATCH Al Jazeera Investigates - Genocide Agenda
A frightening look at what's happening in Myanmar (Burma) where documents reveal a plan to exterminate all Rohingya.

WATCH Journey into Hell, by Four Corners
From Burma through Thailand, an award-winning current affairs team traces official complicity in the brutal treatment of the Rohingya and Phuketwan's part in its exposure.

WATCH How Trafficking Works
Phuketwan Investigative reporter Chutima Sidasathian says of traficking in 2014: ''It's worse and worse, day by day. Nobody cares''.

LISTEN The Rohingya Solution
A tragedy almost beyond words has been unfolding in Thailand, where a human smuggling network is thriving with the full knowledge of some corrupt law enforcement officers. Alan Morison of Phuketwan talks to Australia's AM program.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


The present thai government has to treasure authorities like General Paween if it wants to reach it's goals.
This General is a fine example for fresh incoming and future police officers.
Thailand needs that.

Posted by Kurt on November 5, 2015 10:46


This is a wonderful moving and well written story. I have been following the Thai Rohingya and Phuketwan journalists stories for some time now. I have tried to spread the word on social media in addition to my blog (no links permitted). Please keep up the good work and don't shut down Phuketwan! I wish the Major General all the best.

Posted by Stephen Bentley on November 5, 2015 20:51

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