Thai authorities should carry out an effective investigation, open to public scrutiny, into the abduction and intimidation of Eakachai Itsaratha, a community rights activist in Phatthalung province, Human Rights Watch said today.
“The abduction of a prominent human rights defender in broad daylight demands an immediate government response,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thai authorities should not remain silent about Eakachai’s case but rather take immediate action to seriously investigate and bring those responsible to justice.”
On August 5, 2019, at about 1:30 p.m., more than 10 unidentified men abducted Eakachai at the Al Soleehin Mosque in Phatthalung province’s Ta-Mhod district as he was about to attend a public hearing on a rock quarry project planned for the province. Eakachai told Human Rights Watch that the assailants – all dressed in civilian clothes – seized him outside the mosque and pushed him back to his car, then ordered him to delete an audio recording of the incident on his mobile phone. They then seized his mobile phone, watch, and car keys, and forced him into their car.
The men took Eakachai to the Palm View Resort Hotel in Phatthalung province’s Pa Bon district about 13 kilometers away and held him there until the public hearing ended, around 4 p.m. Before Eakachai was released, one of the assailants threatened him, saying that he and his family would be in danger if he reported the abduction to the police. That man also told him not to return to the mountain villages in Ta-Mhod district again, saying that his activities had adversely affected the quarry project and the process of obtaining permission from the government. Eakachai reported the incident to the 9th Region Police in Songkhla province on August 13.
Journalists also reported that on the day of the hearing, conducted by Phatthalung province’s Provincial Industry Office, an unidentified man who claimed to represent the company behind the planned project intimidated local journalists and told them not to cover the public hearing at Al Soleehin Mosque. A complaint local journalists filed with the provincial governor said that the man told them the event was arranged only for supporters of the rock quarry project and that outsiders were not allowed to attend.
Eakachai is a prominent community rights activist and the secretary-general of Thailand’s Non-Governmental Organizations Coordinating Committee on Development for the southern region (NGO COD-South), as well as the former deputy leader of the grassroots-based Commoner Party. He has long been known for opposing mining and quarry projects, which he contends destroy local livelihoods and the environment, and for demanding accountability for such impacts.
The incident is yet another example of the Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha’s government’s failure to fulfill Thailand’s obligation to ensure that all human rights defenders and organizations can carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment, Human Rights Watch said. Regardless of the government’s much-advertised “national human rights agenda” and the policy to promote business practices compatible with human rights standards, it has done very little to address physical violence, the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation, and various forms of intimidation used by both government agencies and private companies to silence those reporting human rights violations.
“The Thai government should promptly act to reverse the deepening climate of fear felt by villagers opposed to this rock quarry project in Phatthalung province,” Adams said. “Officials should take concrete measures to protect the rights of community members to express their grievances and their opposition to projects that they fear will affect their livelihoods or wellbeing.”