Murdered indigenous rights activist remembered at Government House protest

The Save Bang Kloi Coalition held a candlelight vigil last night (16 March), the 10th day of their protest at Government House, to call for justice for the indigenous Karen community at Bang Kloi, in remembrance of Lahu indigenous rights activist Chaiyaphum Pasae, who was killed at a checkpoint by military officers in 2017.  

Flowers were placed around a sign saying "#saveBangKloi" during the vigil. 

Thatchapong Kaedam, one of the members of the Save Bang Kloi Coalition, asked participants to stand in a circle and hold hands, before placing flowers and candles in the middle of the circle in memory of Chaiyaphum, who was killed on this day four years ago, as well as to remember the Bang Kloi community’s late spiritual leader Ko-i Meemi, and indigenous rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who went missing in 2014.

“[Chaiyaphum] was probably just like us, who are trying to use art and culture to come out and take action for the rights of our ethnic brothers and sisters, especially about citizenship,” said Save Bang Kloi Coalition activist Pachara Khamchamnan during the vigil. “Chaiyaphum was one of our ethnic brothers and sisters who do not have citizenship, and was a victim of extrajudicial killing by war weapons in the hands of the military. Until this day, he has not received justice.”

Candles were placed on the road at the protest site during the vigil. 

Chaiyaphum was a Lahu activist who worked to promote indigenous rights in northern Thailand and was involved in numerous campaigns for indigenous peoples to gain citizenship and access to basic welfare. He also spoke out against abuses by state officials against his community during anti-drug operations.

He was also a filmmaker and songwriter, and had been awarded a prize at the 16th Thai Short Film and Video Festival for a short film called ‘Belt and Comb’ and several of his short documentaries were broadcasted on Thai PBS.

Chaiyaphum was shot and killed by military officers at Ban Rin Luang checkpoint in Chiang Dao District, Chiang Mai, on 17 March 2017. He was 17 years old.

Chaiyaphum Pasae

The officers claimed that they found drugs in Chaiyaphum’s car and had to shoot him because he resisted the search and tried to throw a grenade at them. However, an eyewitness told Thai PBS that Chaiyaphum was dragged out of the car, beaten and shot. Forensic evidence found that Chaiyaphum died by a gunshot wound to the chest from an M16 assault rifle.

The Chiang Mai Provincial Court ruled after an inquest in June 2018 that he was killed by an army bullet, but did not rule whether his death was a result of extrajudicial killing or whether the officers’ action was lawful. The court also did not request the CCTV footage of the incident as evidence, despite a request from the family’s lawyer.  

In October 2020, the Civil Court in Bangkok dismissed a lawsuit filed by Chaiyaphum’s family in May 2019 for damages from the army, ruling that the officers shot Chaiyaphum in self-defence and out of necessity, and therefore the army is not liable to pay damages to his family.

The CCTV footage of the incident was never released and remains missing. Ratsada Manuratsada, the family’s lawyer, noted after the ruling that, despite this, the court gave weight to the examination report from the Police’s Office of Forensic Science, which stated that the CCTC cameras and hard disks were functioning, and that there was no deletion or addition of files in the recorder, but the court did not ask where the footage was.

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