Mining operator urged to drop lawsuit against high school student

Child rights organisations have urged a gold mine operator in Thailand’s northeast to drop a criminal defamation lawsuit against a 10th grade student for allegations that the company polluted her village.  

On Wednesday, 16 December 2015, 22 civil society organisations on child rights and protection issued a joint statement, urging Tungkam Co. Ltd., a gold mining company operating in Wang Saphung District of northeastern Loei Province, to drop a lawsuit against Wanphen Khunna, a grade 10 student from Si Songkhram School in the district.

The company recently sued Wanphen under the criminal defamation law for giving an interview to Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS) where she said “the local creek has been affected by the gold mining operations. It is contaminated and we can’t drink it.”

In addition, the mining operator also launched a lawsuit against Thai PBS for defaming the company in the broadcast, demanding 50 million baht in reparations (about 1,385,800 USD) and five years revocation of the Thai PBS broadcasting permit.

According to the child rights groups, Wanphen’s interview to Thai PBS should be encouraged as it is guaranteed under the international Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which Thailand is a state party.

The group urged that all youths in the country should be encouraged to participate in the protection and development of their communities as it is crucial to foster democratic values among the youth.

“[We] support and encourage all youths to express their opinions and participate in community protection as active and responsible citizens. [Wanphen’s] action should be used as an example to other youths,” the child rights group stated.

On Tuesday, Thai PBS also issued a statement on the matter.  

Thai PBS urged the company to reconsider its lawsuit against a 15-year-old high school student because the expression of her opinions is guaranteed by Article 329 of the Criminal Code.

Article 329 states that whoever, with good intention, expresses any opinion or statement: by way of self-justification or defence, or for the protection of a legitimate interest; in the status of being an official in the exercise of his functions; by way of fair comment on any person or thing subjected to public criticism; or by way of fair report of the open proceeding of any court or meeting, shall not be guilty of defamation.

The public broadcasting company stated that the mining operator should set up a fact-finding committee to examine Wanphen’s allegation instead of intimidating her with criminal defamation.

Currently, the lawsuit against Wanphen is with the Director of the Provincial Juvenile Observation and Protection Office of Loei. The office, in accordance with Article 99 of the 2010 Juvenile and Family Case Procedure, will ultimately decide whether the case is accepted or not.

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 ongoing for many years.

The villagers founded Khon Rak Baan Koed Group (KRBK), translated as ‘People Who Love Their Home’, to campaign against 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 their peak in September 2013 when the villagers barricaded the mine entrance and blocked trucks, each of which normally carries 15 tons of cyanide waste, from passing through the area.