Public Assembly Act used to silence environmentalists in Sakon Nakhon

A public prosecutor has halted an attempt by the authorities to prosecute a villager who peacefully protested against a potash mining project in Sakon Nakhon, part of a long history of suppressing opposition to mining projects in rural Thailand.  
 
On 21 December 2017, a public prosecutor at Sawang Daen Din Provincial Court decided not to indict Achittaphon Khukasang, a member of Wanon Niwat Environmental Conservation Group, for violating the Public Assembly Act. 
 
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, Achittaphon joined a protest on 21 May against a potash mining project of the Thai branch of a Chinese corporation, China Ming Ta Potash. The government has granted the company a license to explore 120,000 rai of land in Wanon Niwat District for potash.
 
The police later pressed a charge under the Public Assembly Act against Achittaphon, alleging that he was a leader of the protest and had breached the law by not giving prior notice to the authorities before staging the rally. 
 
Achittaphon argued that he was among over 200 villagers who participated in the protest and insisted that he was not the event organiser. He added that the protest did not violate the assembly law since the rally was staged on private land owned by a villager.
 
The authorities in Wanon Niwat have repeatedly engaged in judicial harassment of opponents of the mining project. In March, the police filed a charge against a villager under the Public Assembly Act after he joined a social event held by a local environmentalist group. In April 2016, two villagers faced a similar charge after joining a protest against the mining project.
 
 
Achittaphon Khukasang (second from the left) (Photo from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights)