Appeal Court upholds prison sentences for Ban Sapwai land rights defenders

Northeast villagers get jail terms with big fines under NCPO's Forest Reclamation Policy.

The people of Ban Sapwai after the appeal court's verdict at the Chaiyaphum provincial court on 3 July 2019 (source: Isan Land Reform news agency)

The Appeal Court ruled to uphold the verdict of the court of first instance and handed down prison sentences to six land rights defenders from Ban Sapwai. Each defendant received a prison sentence of five to ten months along with a fine.

The “forest reclamation” policies issued by the NCPO in 2014 affected Ban Sapwai and many other villages across the country. As a result, villagers are being evicted from their homes and community land. Despite efforts by both the Ban Sapwai villagers and the provincial government to resolve the conflict, 14 land rights defenders were brought to court by the Sai Thong National Park, to which Ban Sapwai’s community land was annexed in 1992. 

On 2 July, the Appeal Court ruled to uphold the verdict of the court of first instance and gave Somphit Thaennok a prison sentence of 10 months and a fine of 100,000 baht, while Phut Sukbongkot was given a prison sentence of 6 months and 20 days and a fine of 370,000 baht. 

On 3 July, the Appeal Court ruled to uphold the sentence of 7 months given to Suwit Rattanachaisi and increased the amount of damages he has to pay from 40,000 baht to 110,762 baht. 

At the same hearing, Narissara Muangklang received a prison sentence of 9 months and 10 days, and is required to pay damages of 607,161 baht, up from 130,000 baht. Suwalee Pho-ngam received a prison sentence of 5 months and 10 days and has to pay damages of 160,000 baht. Somphit Thaennok, on a second charge was given a prison sentence of 10 months and 20 days, and damages of 100,000 baht.

226 civil society organizations issue statement on Chaiyaphum land right defenders case, 1 July 2019

On Monday (1 July), the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), along with more than 200 other civil society organizations issued a statement for the Thai government to drop all charges against the 14 Ban Sapwai land right defenders, who are facing disproportionate imprisonment and fines. APWLD also noted that they were found guilty despite evidence qualifying for exemption from prosecution as poor, landless and low-income.

Ban Sapwai is one of the thousand villages throughout Thailand being affected by the Thai government’s “forest reclamation” policies. Issued in 2014 by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the order no.64/2014 and 66/2014 aim to increase the national forest land from 31% to 40% by evicting those using the lands. However as of 2015, the NGO Committee on Development has found that only 2% of the cases have been filed/pursued against large businesses and investors, while the rest are against small-scale peasants.

The global human rights community urgently asks the Thai Government to demonstrate its commitment to protecting the Thai people and recognise the important role women land and human rights defenders play in saving the planet.