Evidence submitted by the Army in the case of the summary execution of a Lahu activist is unusable, a defence lawyer has claimed.
Although the trial in the killing of ethnic Lahu activist Chaiyapoom Pasae began over seven months ago, the court has not yet received the Army’s CCTV footage, critical evidence which recorded soldiers shooting the activist.
According to Sumitchai Hattasan, the lawyer for Chaiyapoom’s family, the Army had already sent the CCTV hard disk to the police, but the file cannot be opened. The lawyer said that he would ask the court to order the Army to resend the footage early next year.
Chaiyapoom was a well-known activist from the Young Seedlings Network Camp in Chiang Dao District. He campaigned to promote the rights of ethnic minorities in northern Thailand to gain citizenship, health care, and access to education. He also advocated justice for Lahu villagers who were harassed by the Thai authorities during anti-drug operations.
He was killed on 17 March near an Army checkpoint in Chiang Mai. According to a report by the Army, Chaiyapoom tried to escape arrest after soldiers has stopped him and Pongsanai Saengtala, 19, the driver of a car in which 2,800 methamphetamine pills were allegedly found.
Col Winthai Suvaree, spokesperson of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) claimed that the soldiers shot him dead in self-defence because he attempted to throw a grenade at them.
This contradicts the testimony of an anonymous source in an interview with Thai PBS who said that Chaiyapoom was dragged out of the car and beaten by soldiers before being killed near the checkpoint.
The Army claimed that it has a CCTV record of the checkpoint which will prove that the activist’s summary killing was justifiable. But the public so far has not seen the evidence.
On 13 May, Pol Col Mongkol Sampavaphon, deputy commander of Chiang Mai provincial police, told the media that the Army had sent the hard disk of the CCTV, but the police were reluctant to open it since they did not want to damage the file inside. Mongkol added that if the military had submitted the evidence in the form of a regular copy disk, the police could open the file right away.
At least two high-ranking soldiers
have claimed to have watched the CCTV footage at the checkpoint. One is the 3rd Region Army chief Lt Gen Vijak Siribansop who stated that if he had been at the checkpoint, he might have turned the rifle into automatic mode, rather than just firing a single shot to kill the activist.
The other is Gen Chalermchai Sittisart, the Army Commander-in-Chief, who refused to reveal the evidence to the public, reasoning that the footage might lead to confusion in the investigation process and arguments among society.
In a related development, on 21 December, Chiang Mai Provincial Court held a witness hearing in the summary killing of a Lisu villager, Abe Sae Moo.
Abe, 32, was shot dead near a cornfield in Chiang Mai on 15 February by soldiers from the Army’s 5th Cavalry Regiment Task Force. The authorities alleged that Abe possessed heroin and grenades and resisted arrest. The soldiers then had no choice but to kill him in self-defence.
The court today summoned two low-ranking soldiers who witnessed the killing and will summon four other witnesses including the doctor who performed the autopsy and the supervisor of the soldier who killed Abe on 26 December.
The northern region bordering Myanmar is home to several hill minorities. The villagers, some of them stateless and unable to understand Thai, have long been the subject of abuse by the Thai authorities. During the War on Drugs in 2003, the use of torture and enforced disappearances against ethnic minorities was pervasive. Thailand’s justice system is plagued with a culture of impunity and has not been able to hold human rights violators accountable.
Soldiers searched Chayapoom’s car before the killing