Court dismisses assassination of land rights defender

An appeal court has refused to try the assassination case of a community rights defender killed earlier this year, ruling that the witnesses are unreliable despite being present at the crime scene.
 
On 1 December 2016, the Surat Thani Appeal Court dismissed the assassination case of Chai Bunthonglek, a land rights activist who was killed in February this year, reported the Human Rights Lawyers Association. Chai was shot dead at his house with a .357 gun by two gunmen on 11 February 2015.
 
He is the fourth member of the Southern Peasant’s Federation of Thailand (SPFT) from Khlong Sai Pattana Community to be shot dead. Khlong Sai Pattana community has been engaged for many years in an ongoing land dispute involving Jiew Kang Jue Pattana, a palm oil company.
 
SPFT is a local network of southern farmers who promote land reform and community rights to land to make a living.
 
Earlier in 2010, Somporn Pattanabhumi, a former SPFT member from the community, was assassinated. In 2012, Montha Chukaew and Pranee Boonrat, human rights defenders and SPFT members, were shot and killed while travelling to a local market in the district. The perpetrators of their murders have also yet to be brought to justice.
 
There have been repeated reports from members of the community of being threatened and intimidated by unidentified groups of men.
 
The court of first instance previously dismissed Chai's case on 15 March on the basis that his assassination happened at night. The court ruled that the description of the suspects provided by the two witnesses at the crime scene was not reliable, since the witnesses only saw the suspects briefly from a distance of about 10 metres. The appeal court confirmed this judgement.   
 
 
Chai Bunthonglek (far right) and villagers of Khlong Sai Pattana Community in Surat Thani province at a rally to protect the community's land on 2 October 2014. The banner reads: ‘We will stand for justice to protect land to the end. Stop evicting the poor. The Khlong Sai people will fight'