Sumatran Elephant Foundation trial in Indonesia over trafficking allegations

Image copyright Amir Syamsuddin Image caption Din Syamsuddin wanted to acquire a personal herd of elephants, so he could take the animals abroad

A three-day trial has opened in Indonesia against 17 men accused of illegally moving endangered Sumatran elephant parts to Thailand.

They are accused of trafficking across borders and selling 3kg (6.6lb) of elephant tusks and 21kg (40lb) of other elephant parts on the black market.

Police say Din Syamsuddin, head of the Sumatran Elephant Foundation, asked his son’s friend, Ahmad Junaidi, to procure the parts for him.

The case involves hundreds of police raids.

Image copyright SIRU Image caption The operation to seize the elephants was instigated by Dina Syamsuddin’s death in 2015

The accused deny the charges, arguing that they travelled legally to export the endangered species.

Police allege the charges are “bogus” because illegal ivory was not returned after the consignment was seized.

“Mr Junaidi brought his friend Din Syamsuddin to the zoo in Bangka Island and a woman, a zoo employee, introduced Syamsuddin to a girl who bought elephant tusks from her friend,” police spokesman Suwarno said in a news conference on Monday.

The trial is proceeding in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province.

Image copyright Amnesty International Image caption The accused are accused of trafficking endangered elephant parts to Thailand

Many law-enforcement officers and prosecutors have suffered while investigating the case, the BBC’s Ahmad Shihab Fadhil in Jakarta reports.

Three of the accused face the death penalty. They also face the death penalty under existing law for smuggling or trafficking sensitive, endangered or banned animals.

During a previous trial in January, one of the defence lawyers said the tusks were destined for private buyers but the police had not explained why the animals had been transported.

Image copyright Amnesty International Image caption There has been rising concern over poaching in Sumatra

The Medan trial focuses on the 2012 arrests of four men on four different islands.

The elephants were confiscated after intelligence was gathered by the organisation of which Din Syamsuddin was a founding member and by the Indonesian Elephant Foundation, which Mr Syamsuddin founded.

Din Syamsuddin passed away in 2015, in what many say was a deliberate move to hide evidence about the smuggling.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Din Syamsuddin had previously worked in wildlife protection

The case has alarmed conservationists and has been associated with the rise of anti-Muslim sentiments in parts of Indonesia.

Minority group Lao Muslims say anti-trafficking campaigns are designed to abuse the country’s Muslim majority.

Indonesia is home to Indonesia’s largest wildlife reserves and vast reserves for the endangered orangutan.

But last year, a national survey found that the number of elephant herds and orangutans has fallen dramatically, which conservationists say could be due to poaching.

In December, the head of the Indonesian Wildlife Conservation Association warned that Indonesia’s elephants are close to extinction.

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