Mine operator in Isan threatens to sue high school student

A gold mine company is threatening to sue a high school student who reported the environmental effects of mining activities in Isan, Thailand’s northeast.

On 4 September 2015, Suphab Phrommanee, the village chief of Ban Phuthapfa Phattana, Khao Luang Subdistrict, Wang Saphung District, Loei Province, summoned Wanphen Khunna, a grade 10 student from Si Songkhram School and her family for a talk at his house on 6 September 2015.

There, the high school student and her family found themselves being interrogated by representatives of Tungkam Co. Ltd., a gold mining company operating in the district, and officials from the subdistrict.

The company representatives asked if Wanphen reported the environmental effects of the ore mine in the district when she participated in an environmental youth camp called Hak Ban Hao (Love One’s Village) organised by Thai Volunteer Service (TVS), a Thai NGO, between 28-30 August 2015.

Parts of the camp activities were broadcast by Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS).

Thai PBS's broadcast of the Hak Ban Hao environmental youth camp in Loei between 28-30 August 2015 

According to the mine company, the Thai PBS report on the camp discredits and defames the company because it accuses the company of polluting local streams and soil in the district. The company’s representatives said that they will press charges under Article 14 of the 2007 Computer Crime Act and criminal defamation charges against Thai PBS, the organisers of the camp, and the participants.

The representatives, however, added that they do not want to sue children and recommended that Wanpen report to the police that she was forced to report environmental effects of the mine by the camp organisers.        

“We can add in the police report to protect you that you didn’t say it yourself, but they [the organisers] forced you to say it. So, you can protect yourself by saying that you are not involved. At first [we] didn’t know that you are still children,” said the company representative.            

The mine operator representative add “the mine [operators] do not have a policy to harm children. We don’t want to put children in prison because children are probably not involved. [We] just want you to become witnesses. If you report this in the police report, you will not become involved, but those people [the organisers and others involved in the camp] will be sued.”

Wanphen reported that she was frightened and scared when she heard of the possibility that she might be sued by the company, but she will not report to the police what the company recommended.

When informed about legal threats against Wanphen, TVS, the organisers of the camp, said that they believe that they have done nothing wrong in organising the camp and will fight to prove their innocence. TVS added that they would understand if Wanphen and her family choose to do what the company asked in order to protect themselves.

Last month, military officers in Loei attempted to prevent the Hak Ban Hao environmental youth camp in Wang Saphung from taking place, claiming to the organisers that it might affect national security and violate the 2015 Public Assembly Act.

However, after much struggle, the organisers were able to organise the camp, but it was closely monitored by military officers.

The conflict between the Wang Saphung villagers and Tungkam Co. Ltd., a gold mining company which won a state contract the mine the area, has been protracted for many years.

The villagers founded Khon Rak Baan Koed Group (KRBK), translated as ‘People Who Love Their Home’, to campaign against the mining activities, claiming that they have suffered numerous environmental problems.

According to the group, about 3,700 villagers from 1,000 families have suffered health problems from drinking the water from the area’s streams. Nonetheless, the company said that the claims were false.

Tension between villagers and the mine operator reached its peak in September 2013 when the villagers barricaded the mine entrance and blocking trucks, each of which normally carries 15 tons of cyanide waste, from passing through the area.