The Appeal Court has sentenced a villager in Lampang to 1 year in prison and a fine of 400,000 baht for encroaching on national park land, despite evidence that the plot in question has been occupied since 1954.
Wannueng Yawichaipong, 53, formerly named Saengduean Tinyot, a villager from Mae Kwak Village, Ban On Subdistrict, Ngao District, Lampang, was sentenced last week (8 September) to 1 year in prison and a fine of 400,00 baht plus 7.5% in interest after the Appeal Court ruled that she is guilty of encroaching on national forest land and unlawful possession of a firearm. The Court also ordered her to remove her belongings from the land.
Wannueng was twice ordered by Tham Pha Thai National Park to cut down her rubber trees, in 2013 and 2015. After it was proven that the plot in question was not part of the land that was to be declared a national park area, Wannueng demanded compensation, but was then sued by Mae Pong National Forest Area officials in December 2018, despite evidence that the plot in question has been occupied since 1954.
In December 2019, the Lampang Provincial Court dismissed the case and acquitted Wannueng of all charges after Cheewapap Cheewatham, Director of the Forest Protection and Fire Control Bureau, Forestry Department, testified that she had not violated national park boundaries as aerial photographs taken in 1954 showed that the land in question had been previously cleared and occupied.
Wisarut Srichan, an activist from the community rights group P-Move, also testified that Mae Kwak village land has been included in the Community Title Deed project, a campaign launched by the NCPO government to allocate land to villagers.
However, the public prosecutors filed an appeal, and the Appeal Court ruled to overturn the Lampang Provincial Court on the ground that the mitigating circumstances did not apply to Wannueng’s case, and overturned her acquittal in the illegal possession of firearm charge, claiming that the place where the gun was found was unlocked and easily accessible, posing a danger to others.
Wannueng’s case is among those in which villagers affected by the NCPO’s forest reclamation policy face legal prosecution.