Ethnic minorities in northern Thailand found guilty of assaulting park rangers

A provincial court in northern Thailand has found three ethnic Lahu villagers guilty of encroaching on a national park and offences against authorities. 
 
On 27 September 2016, Fang Provincial Court sentenced three ethnic Lahu: Withun Khiriratsami, Pra-ae Khiriratsami and Chakui Chabalo. The three were accused of encroaching on Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park and of assaulting park rangers. 
 
Withun faces a one year and two month suspended jail term and 4,500 baht fine. Pra-ae faces a six-month suspended jail term and 1,000 baht fine. Chakui faces a year and four month jail term but has already appealed his case and requested bail. 
 
This lawsuit is a consequence of the junta’s NCPO Order No. 67/2014, on the suppression of deforestation, reported Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR). The Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park authorities accused Pra-ae of encroachment on the protected area and accused all three of assaulting officials on duty on 17 July 2015. 
 
The three initially denied all allegations but Withun and Pra-ae later pleaded guilty in a witness hearing process. Chakui, however, insisted on fighting his case, saying he was not at the crime scene on that day.
 
Pra-ae, the religious leader of the village, told Prachatai that on 17 July 2015, he went to check the irrigation system of the village. When he ran into some National Park officials, he ran away. He said the officers caught him and beat him on the head. 
 
Later his son and other villagers came to rescue him and tried to take him to the hospital. The National Park officials then allegedly blocked their way and surrounded the villagers. The situation became tense and both sides engaged in a brief clash. The incident ended when the military came to impose law and order at the request of the National Park officials. 
 
Pra-ae has farmed in the area for more than 20 years. The ethnic Lahu live in Fang, Chai Prakan, Mae Ai and Chiang Dao districts in Chiang Mai, as well as in Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai. They are mainly farmers, growing rice and lychee in protected areas without title deeds. The hill minority maintain they lived and farmed in the area long before the national parks were created.  
 
The ethnic Lahu, most of whom do not speak Thai, have been victims of abuse by Thai authorities for at least a decade. During the War on Drugs in 2003, a policy of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Lahu were frequent victims of enforced disappearance and torture by the Thai military as the policy intensified the unfair treatment of the Lahu based on prejudicial assumptions that hill minority people are involved in crimes such as drug trafficking, deforestation and encroachment. 
 
 
Pra-ae Khirisatsami (middle)