Rights groups demand justice for disappeared Karen activist

Human rights advocacy groups urged the authorities to take actions against the prime suspects of the enforced disappearance of a Karen activist after two years of no progress.  

On Thursday, 7 April 2016, representatives of 22 human rights advocacy groups, such as Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), Network of Thailand’s Ethnic Minorities and Human Rights Lawyer Association (HRLA), submitted a joint statement on the enforced disappearance of Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, aka Billy, a Karen human and community rights activist, to the Department of National Parks (DNP).

The statement was accepted by Ruengsak Teekasuk, acting Director of the DNP.   

In the statement, the rights group urged the authorities to suspend Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, former Superintendent of Kaeng Krachan National Park in western Phetchaburi Province who is the prime suspect of the enforced disappearance of Porlajee, from all public offices.

They also demanded that the DNP should set up an independent committee to investigate into the case.

In addition, the group also urged the DNP to investigate the eviction and burning of houses of ethnic Karen villagers in Pong Luk Bang Kloy of Phetchaburi Province in May 2011. The eviction and burning was done at the order of Chaiwat.

Chaiwat together with the DNP and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment were accused under Article 157 of the Criminal Code, malfeasance in office, for such actions. However, the Administrative Court in February dismissed charges against the two public agencies, reasoning that under Article 22 of the 1961 National Parks Act, the DNP has the authority to remove any structure built in national parks.              

Porlajee has been missing since 17 April 2014. He was arrested and unlawfully detained by Chaiwat and four other park officers regarding a wild bee honeycomb and six bottles of honey allegedly found in his possession before he disappeared.

The Karen activist’s disappearance came three years after he assisted Karen villagers of Pong Luk Bang Kloy to file a lawsuit against Chaiwat in the Administrative Court for ordering the eviction and burning of the Karen village in May 2011.

Shortly after his disappearance, Pinnapha Phrueksapan, Porlajee’s wife, requested the court to hold an emergency trial under Article 90 of the Criminal Procedure Code to investigate his alleged unlawful detention. However, the Court of First Instance later ruled that evidence of the unlawful detention of Billy was insufficient.

Investigation officers of the Royal Thai Police Region 7 in early 2015 also filed charges under Article 157 of the Criminal Code (malfeasance in office) against Chaiwat and four other park officers for the alleged unlawful detention of Billy.

The case is also under investigation by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). However, no progress has been made on the case since last year.

Some of the representatives of the 22 human rights advocacy groups at the Department of National Parks (DNP) on 7 April 2016