TUAL, Indonesia (AP) -- An Indonesian court on Friday overruled defense objections and decided to proceed with the trials of five Thais and three Indonesians accused of human trafficking in connection with slavery in the seafood industry.
The three-judge panel rejected arguments by defense lawyers that a government moratorium on foreign fishing boats was chiefly responsible for the stranding of hundreds of foreign fishermen, many trafficked or enslaved, on remote Indonesian islands.
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 $46,000.
The court heard testimonies Friday from two Myanmar fishermen, Nyo Naing and Zaw Myat. They are among more than a dozen foreigners expected to testify at the trials that began Nov. 16 at the district court in Tual, a municipality in southeastern Maluku province about 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) east of Jakarta.
Both men told the court 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.
All the defendants were arrested in May in the remote island village of Benjina after the slavery was revealed by The Associated Press in a report two months earlier. They are employees of Pusaka Benjina Resources, one of the largest fishing companies in eastern Indonesia.
Indonesian police have found that hundreds of foreign fishermen were recruited in Thailand and brought to Indonesia using fake immigration papers and were subjected to severe 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. Some had been held captive more than a decade after being trafficked onto Thai trawlers.
A multimillion-dollar Thai-Indonesian fishing business also has been shut down.