Thailand: Prosecutors Drop Murder Charges Linked to Karen Activist’s 2014 Death

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2020-01-24
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200124-TH-billy-620.jpg Pinnapha Phrueksapan, the widow of ethnic Karen leader Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, stands beside the portrait of her late husband following a ceremony in Bangkok, Sept. 16, 2019.
AFP

Citing a lack of evidence, a Thai public prosecutor on Friday announced that murder and other serious charges linked to the killing of an ethnic Karen activist in 2014 have been dropped against a national park officer and three of his former subordinates.

The four turned themselves in to authorities in Bangkok last November, a day after arrest warrants were filed in connection with the killing of activist Porlajee Rakchongcharoen (also known as Billy).

He went missing on April 17, 2014, the day he was stopped by park officers at a checkpoint while traveling to meet Karen villagers who had accused officials of setting fire to their homes three years earlier.

Charges were filed against Chaiwat Limlikhit-akson, the chief officer at Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province at the time, and the others.

“The committee considered the evidence from the Department of Special Investigation’s (DSI) case file, but found no evidence to suggest that Chaiwat and his men had killed Billy, where and how,” prosecution spokesman Prayuth Petchkoon told reporters on Friday. “Particularly, there is no evidence to support how Billy was killed.”

Chiawat, now a senior official in southern Pattani province, said he did not know about the prosecutors’ decision.

“If the news is true, I am grateful to the prosecutors who gave me mercy and justice,” Chaiwat told reporters. “I reaffirm that I have nothing to do with Billy at all.”

The four were arrested two months after DSI members found bone fragments in an oil tank submerged in a reservoir inside the national park. DNA analysis confirmed the remains as those of the missing activist.

Billy’s widow, Pinnapha Phrueksapan, continues to believe that Chaiwat and his men abducted and killed her husband.

“[I] plan to petition to the prosecutor next Monday,” Pinnapha told reporters, adding that villagers were skeptical about the decision because there has been little progress in nearly six years.

“The DSI presented evidence to the prosecutors to consider the case, but they dropped the charges. Everyone has doubts whether justice exists at all,” she said.

In 2014, Billy was to testify in a court case filed by his fellow ethnic Karen farmers against Chaiwat and others. The farmers alleged that Chaiwat and others ransacked and burned their homes and properties in Pongluek-Bangkloy, a village near the national park, in 2011.

Billy disappeared a day before he was to take the witness stand and Chaiwat was acquitted over insufficient evidence later that year.

In his statement on Friday, the prosecutor pointed to Pinnapha’s actions after Billy went missing to show she did not think he had been killed. Prayuth said Pinnapha believed Billy had been detained for harvesting wild honey and filed a request with the provincial court to order the park service to release him.

Prosecutors dropped the murder, abduction and other serious charges against Chaiwat and his underlings, but sustained one misconduct charge – failure to file a police report about Billy harvesting the honey from the national park.

Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former national human rights commissioner, questioned the prosecutors’ decision.

“Normally, the DSI works very closely with the public prosecutors. In this case, I don’t understand why the prosecutors dropped the charges while DSI says it has sufficient evidence,” she told BenarNews. “Or does the DSI not have solid evidence?”

“I disagree with the idea of having the widow file a case by herself because the family doesn’t have access to all the evidence including forensics and witnesses. The justice minister who promised justice on this enforced disappearance of Billy should come out to publicly clarify the case.”

The Bwa G’Naw people, otherwise known as Karen, Kariang or Yang, are members of a hill tribe scattered across Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.

The number of Karen ranges between 7.5 million and 14 million, with most of them concentrated in Myanmar, according to official population estimates. The Australian Karen Foundation estimates as many as 1 million Karen live in Thailand.

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