Court acquits Hmong accused of land encroachment

A Provincial Court in northern Thailand has acquitted a Hmong man accused by national park officers of encroaching into a protected area.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that the Provincial Court of the northern province of Mae Hong Son on Wednesday, 25 May 2016, acquitted Su Wangpoh, a 58-year-old Hmong from Pai District of the province.

Su was indicted by the public prosecutor of Mae Hong Son for violating the Forestry Act and the 1961 National Forest Reserve Act after officers of the Royal Forest Department accused him of encroaching into about 16 rai of land which is part of Mae Pai Forest Reserve.

The judges ruled that an inspection report on the alleged encroachment contradicts the testimonies of two park officers and a soldier who performed the inspection during the trial.

The park officers and soldier testified that on 30 June 2015 they found 10 Hmong villagers while inspecting the 16-rai land plot which had been cleared and cultivated. They said that Su appeared to be the one who was cultivating the plot and he attempted to run away when they tried to take him in for interrogation.

The three added during the trial that they and other officers did not arrest the villagers because they were armed.

According to the court, however, there is no mention of Su’s name in the inspection report as the three claimed and only one of the ten Hmong villagers was carrying a knife which was sheathed during the inspection, while the officers were heavily armed.

Su pointed out during the trial that he did not try to escape and that he was not the only one who cultivated land, but it was a community plot which has been used by many Hmong families in the area.

He said that the Office of Narcotics Control Board had for many years allowed the community to use the land for farming.

After the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the formal name of the Thai junta, issued NCPO Orders 64/2014 and 66/2014 to protect and reclaim Thailand’s protected areas in June 2014, many poor communities countrywide have been evicted by the authorities.

According to the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD) of the Northeast, since 2014, 103 small-scale farmers have already been accused of encroaching on protected areas and almost 1,800 in the Northeast have now been prohibited from using their farmland and are about to receive court summons for alleged encroachment.