Submitted on Wed, 24 Jan 2018 - 12:17 PM
Suphap Khamlae, wife of disappeared land rights activist Den Khamlae, has been released upon completing a six-month jail sentence for land encroachment. At 65, Ms Suphap, of Khok Yao Village, Khon San District, Chaiyaphum Province, insists that she will continue to fight for the Khok Yao community until justice is achieved.
Each night as darkness falls, desolation descends upon this lonely house as Mother Suphap awaits her husband’s return to the place they call home
Charged under the Forest Act (1941) and the National Reserved Forest Act (1964) with encroachment on the Phu Sam Phak Nam Protected Forest in Chaiyaphum, Ms Suphap was sentenced to six months in Phu Khieo Prison, Chaiyaphum, beginning 27 June 2017. The sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court and read out by the Phu Khieo Provincial Court.
Upon her 6 January release, she was joyfully received by members of people’s movements nationwide under the umbrella of the People’s Movement for a Just Society (P-Move). Human rights activists, ordinary citizens and students came to welcome “Mother Phap” to freedom, reuniting her with home in a spirit binding ceremony.
Suphap told Prachatai that prisoners are usually freed at 10 in the morning, giving them time for devotions, exercise and to bathe before singing the national anthem and eating at eight. However, she was released at seven, given no time to prepare and no opportunity to eat or say goodbye to friends.
She speculates, with a smile and a laugh, that prison officials released her early out of fear of the journalists and large crowds that might meet her at the prison gate. She was overjoyed and deeply moved at the many people who, in fact, did come to receive her.
With the early-morning release, some missed meeting her at the gates. Professor Alongkorn Akkasaeng, College of Politics and Governance, Mahasarakham University, left home on 5 January and took a room in Phu Khieo, eager to greet Suphap the morning of the seventh. He arrived at the prison at 10, the scheduled release time, only to find no one. Prison officials told him that she had been released at seven and that everyone had already left. Alongkorn then travelled to a temple in Khon Kaen where ceremonies were being held for Mother Phap and offered his congratulations there.
Another academic who welcomed Suphap to freedom, Anuson Phatthanasan, Faculty of Political Science, Chaiyaphum Rajabhat University, says that in the course of researching land use issues he had spoken with Den, Suphap’s husband, a few times before he disappeared. Though he had not had much opportunity to speak with Suphap, he had encountered her many times at land use seminars, and at an event in May of last year marking the one year anniversary of Den’s disappearance.
“I’ve felt bound to their fate for a long time now, and after Mother Phap was imprisoned, I committed myself to welcoming her upon release and giving her encouragement,” he says. “Why should anyone bear repeated hardship like this? Khok Yao Village takes up very little space, both for living and gardening. The houses are not much more than tin shacks, just enough to shut out the wind and with less than a tenth of a hectare, just enough for beans and vegetables to live day-to-day. And she has to go to jail. That’s more than the poor should have to bear.”
Mother Suphap’s case is only one instance of injustice resulting from the improper exercise of government power in land disputes with the state. Protected forest status is designated for areas where people are already living and eking out their survival, and officials move to force the villagers out of their homes and off their land. When villagers petition for their rights, they are met with obstacles, threats and various forms of violence. Many are arrested and charged and must fight their cases from the Court of First Instance all the way to the Supreme Court. Some lose their freedom and are jailed. This endless cycle of injustice will continue as long as state agencies fail to cooperate in correcting problems with policy.