Supreme Court dismisses land encroachment charges against Karen

After almost a decade-long legal battle, the Supreme Court has dismissed lawsuits against 2 members of the Karen ethnic minority in northern Thailand accused of land encroachment.

On 22 March 2017, the Provincial Court of Mae Sot District in Tak Province dismissed the case against Nohaemui Wiangwicha and Dipaepo or Dipaepho, two members of the Karen ethnic minority of Ban Mae Omki, Mae Wa Luang Subdistrict, Tha Song Yang District, Tak Province.

The two were indicted in 2008 of violating the 1964 National Reserved Forest Act by encroaching onto a protected area.

In 2008, the Court of First Instance sentenced Nohaemui to one year in prison and Dipea-po to one year and three months after the two pleaded guilty.

Lawyers from the Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) later appealed the sentence, pointing out that the trial violated the Criminal Procedure Code because they do not speak Thai and so were not given a fair chance to fight the case.

The Appeal Court in 2011 acquitted Nohaemui, reasoning that her family had settled and cultivated the land before the enactment of National Reserved Forest Act in 1964. The following year, however, the court maintained the Court of First Instance’s verdict on Dipaepo.

According to Sumitchai Hattasarn, their defence lawyer from the HRLA, the Supreme Court acquittal acknowledges the livelihood of Karen communities who have practised sustainable farming in the forests for generations.

He added that the verdict, however, still demands that both Nohaemui and Dipaepo move from their land now it is declared a protected forest. 

No-heamui Wiangwicha (right) and Dipea-po (Photo from Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA))