Court Convicts Two Men for Attacks on Loei Human Rights Defenders
(Loei, May 31, 2016)— Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group (KRBKG), Fortify Rights, Community Resource Centre Foundation (CRC), and Protection International (PI), welcomed the conviction of two men for May 2014 attacks by masked militiamen against human rights defenders and villagers in Na Nong Bong village in Loei Province. The organizations called on Thailand to uphold its obligations to protect human rights defenders and ensure further accountability for the attacks.
Today, the Loei Provincial Court convicted Army Lieutenant Colonel Poramin Pomnak and retired Army Lieutenant General Porames Pomnak for their alleged involvement in attacks against human rights defenders in Loei province on May 15, 2014.
Lt. Col. Poramin Pomnak and Lt. Gen. Porames Pomnak were the only two individuals charged for the attack on May 15, 2014, when at least 150 unidentified men—some in black masks carrying wooden sticks, knives, and guns—surrounded Na Nong Bong village and held captive scores of villagers, assaulting some. The unknown militia forced villagers to lie face down on the ground, with their hands tied on their back for several hours while trucks transported ore out of the mine site and village.
“We welcome the court verdict but note that until today, the government has failed to hold all perpetrators accountable in this case,” said Pranom Somwong of Protection International. “We’re not convinced the authorities committed sufficient resources into investigating the attacks. The continued lack of accountability contributes to an atmosphere of fear for human rights defenders, who are under threat in Thailand.”
Lt. Col. Poramin Pomnak and Lt. Gen. Porames Pomnak were convicted for violating several sections of the Thai Criminal Code and the Gun, Ammunition, Explosive Substance, Firework and Artificial Gun Weapon Act, including causing bodily harm, depriving others of liberty, and the unnecessary use of a firearm in public. The two military personnel were sentenced to just under three years and two years respectively. The Court also ordered the two accused to pay compensation to nine villagers ranging from 2,600 to 25,000 Thai Baht (US$72 to US$700).
Most of the individuals attacked during the May 15 incident were members of the KRBKG, a community-based organization calling for the closure of the gold mine and redress for adverse health and environmental impacts potentially linked to the mine.
Mr. Surapun Rujichaiyavat, a member of KRBKG, told Fortify Rights: “One of the masked men pointed to me and said, ‘That is the leader.’ Then the other men arrested me. I was handcuffed and beaten. One man took my motorcycle key and another came and kicked me in my face. I was knocked out and fell down.”
“Heavy costs comes with exercising your rights in Thailand,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “The courageous human rights defenders working to protect their land and their futures know these costs well.”
Almost a month prior to the attacks, members of the KRBKG issued anopen letterto several Thai government agencies, including the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, the Commander of Royal Thai Army, the Thai Police, and others, requesting an investigation into ongoing threats and potential rights violations against villagers living in the area surrounding the gold mine in Loei.
“This case is the major test for Thailand commitments to ensure justice for human rights abuses committed against human rights defenders,” said Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, Coordinator of Community Resource Centre Foundation (CRC). “The Thai authorities have an obligation under international laws to protect human rights defenders exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and investigate alleged serious violation of human rights to bring perpetrators to account.”
CRC has provided legal representation to villagers injured in the attack and KRBKG members facing criminal and civil defamation charges related to their activities in protesting the mining operations. Since 2007, Tungkum company Ltd.—the company operating the mine at Loei—has brought at least 19 criminal and civil lawsuits against 33 members of KRBKG and other villagers, including a complaint against a 15-year-old girl. Through these lawsuits, the company has sought 320 million Thai Baht (US$9.1 million). As of today, eight criminal and civil cases involving at least 25 villagers are pending.
The company also brought criminal charges against two local officials, Samai Phakmi and Khonglai Phakmi for allegedly violating Section 157 of the Criminal Code and allowing the posting of signs that were critical of the mine at the entrance gate in Na Nong Bong village. The Appeal Court today upheld the dismissal of the case against the two local officials for lack of merit.
“We are only villagers defending our environment,” KRBKG members told Fortify Rights. “We have only our rights and no other kinds of weapons. We exercise our community rights.”
Thailand recently affirmed its commitment to protect human rights defenders during the second U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodical Review of Thailand in Geneva on May 11, 2016. Thailand accepted recommendations from six countries to investigate reports of intimidation, harassment, and attacks on human rights defenders as well as ensure accountability.
Thai authorities should immediately reopen an investigation into these alleged serious violations of human rights, bring all the perpetrators to account and ensure effective remedies for the villagers whose rights were abused, said the organizations. Any adverse impacts potentially linked to the gold mine in Loei should also be promptly addressed.
“When we fight for our rights, we were beaten. When we were beaten, we tried to demand justice through the judicial system, but today we have not gotten one step closer to justice,” said KRBKG members Pornthip Hongchai, Viron Rujichaiyavat, and Ranong Kongsaen “And we will continue this fight. We will not retreat. We will not give up because this is our home.”