On 23 March 2020 around 14.00, the Phattalung Provincial Court convicted five defendants who plead guilty of abducting Ekkachai Isarata, a human right defender from southern Thailand. The court ordered the five defendants to pay compensation to Ekkachai for 250,000 baht, reduced from 500,000 baht that Ekkachai originally requested to court, according to Community Resources Center (CRC) who represented him in court.
The court convicted the defendants according to Article 309 Section 2 for illegal confinement. As the defendants agreed to make the compensation and confessed, the court sentenced the first defendant of 20,000-baht fine, but reduced to 6-month imprisonment and 10,000-baht fine. The second to fifth defendants were handed down 10,000-baht find, but reduced to 6-month imprisonment and 5,000-baht fine.
Their imprisonment sentences were however suspended for two years and the convicted will be on probation for 2 year. They would have to report themselves four times to authorities and do public services work for 18 hours. Ekkachai would receive the compensation after he filed request to the court and would be given compensation about 10 working days later.
Ekkachai Isarata is a HRD in the South, working on the ground with different communities to promote community rights and public participation in relation to large scale development projects and extractive industries. He is also Secretary General of the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD).
On 5 August 2019, Ekkachai was abducted and threatened by a group of men affiliated with a local mafia/politician after he traveled to take part in a public hearing concerning a mining project in Phattalung Province. The participation and sharing of opinions during the process to review the application for licenses to operate projects which may affect the environment and health of the community including the public hearing, the submission of letter of petition, the holding of public discussions, or other peaceful expressions should be regarded as the exercise of the right to participate in the management, maintenance and utilization of natural resources and the environment upheld by the Constitution 2017’s Section 43. The right is key to the participatory preservation of the environment based on sustainable development which should be adhered to by public officers and private businesses. They are obliged to ensure such inclusive process is conducted freely without any impediment and intimidation in accordance to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs)
Earlier on 18 February, all five defendants come to the court together with their lawyer. They denied that all five defendants never know each other and they never knew Ekachai.
Ekkachai said that the mining company should show the responsibility by withdrawing the concession request from the mining project.
“I wanted to ask the Thai government how they would show their stance on the situation. If Thai authorities continue to dismiss the actions done by the corporations who were granted of the state concessions, such action would still happen”, said Ekkachai.
Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, lawyer who represented Ekkachai and the Community Resource Center said that the intimidation and threats against the environmental HRDs are increasingly violent to the levels of taking away lives and liberty in southern Thailand. As the quarry mining has relative low cost of production but very high return, the corporations are willing to use dark side to make sure the project can proceed no matter what, she said.
“Thai authorities must make sure they fully take responsibility to ensure this would not happen again to anyone. No matter what such opposition against such large development projects would still continue, so we have to ensure that there would be no intimidation to HRDs. If development projects really follow human rights principles, then it would be able to continue and pose no problem to anyone,” said the lawyer.