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Court finds gunman guilty of attempted assassination of land rights defender

Somphon Chimrueng has been found guilty of the attempted murder of a land rights defender in Surat Thani and sentenced to 13 years and 16 months of imprisonment. He has also been ordered to pay compensation to the victim.

Dam (in the middle) attends the Court hearing with supporters.

At 9 am today (26 August 2021), the Wiang Sa Provincial Court, Surat Thani, delivered its verdict on Black Case no. O18/2564 concerning the attempted assassination of Dam Onmuang, a land rights defender of the Santi Pattana Community, a member community of the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT).

Dam was nearly killed by shots fired at him at about 1am on 20 October 2020, while he and four other members of the Santi Pattana Community were on patrol guarding the entrance to their community. The assailant charged in and fired at Dam’s head. Fortunately, Dam was able to avoid the bullets and survived this flagrant attempt on his life.

The perpetrator was later identified as Somphon Chimrueng, a former employee of a private oil palm company which is in dispute with the community. After the attack, Somphon fled in a car. He was arrested at his home where the police seized the firearm used in the crime. He was later indicted for attempted murder, and for having in his possession a firearm and ammunition without a permit and carrying a firearm into a town, village or public thoroughfare without permission and without reasonable grounds, offences under the Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, Fireworks and Imitation Firearms Act

Witness examination took place from 29-30 June 2021.

Dam’s legal team was granted permission to register as co-plaintiffs, alongside the public prosecutor.

The Wiang Sa Provincial Court convicted Somphon, sentenced him to 13 years and 16 months of imprisonment and ordered him to pay 30,000 baht compensation to Dam . Dam had asked for 60,000 baht; according to the summary of the verdict, Somphon had already paid him 30,000 baht.

After hearing the verdict, Dam said that he was satisfied with the decision and felt that justice had been served.

In the struggles of SPFT, Dam has lost four of his comrades to assassination. He and another comrade have been victims of attempted assassination.

This was the first time that a perpetrator of violence against the SPFT was identified and brought to justice. It bodes well for SPFT that justice was done this time.  

Dam added that he owes a debt of gratitude to many including the SPFT, Protection International and his legal team for the excellent assistance given until justice was obtained today.

Natthaphan Saengthap, a Women Human Rights Defender and member of the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT) and an authorized legal representative of Dam, said after hearing the verdict that she feels thrilled and happy that Uncle Dam has received justice from the court.

She feels justice for him was served 100% when the perpetrator was brought to justice. She laments the fact that many other perpetrators of crimes against other members of SPFT have not yet been brought to trial. Many other groups in Thailand are demanding justice and such justice must be equally provided to all other groups as well.

Amphon Sangthong, Dam’s attorney, said after the verdict that she was happy with the decision since the perpetrator has been dealt with according to the law. This case is very significant since it is the first time that the perpetrator of a crime against the SPFT has been brought to justice. Until now, four HRDs (two WHRDs) and SPFT members have been assassinated and another person has been victim of an assassination attempt, yet no one has yet been prosecuted.

In this case, the injured party gave evidence as an eyewitness confirming the identity of the perpetrator, and enough evidence had been acquired. She, however, feels concerned that the defendant will appeal the decision, as is his right. She is sure that there is sufficient evidence and she is ready to stand by and fight on for Dam.

Currently, Dam, the SPFT and his legal team are monitoring whether the verdict will be appealed, which has to be done within 30 days. If an appeal motion is filed, Amphon Sangthong and the legal team intend to file a counter appeal.

Angkhana Neelapaijit, former National Human Rights Commissioner, said “That the court has convicted and punished the perpetrator involved in the attempted assassination of Dam Onmuang, an SPFT member, serves as an initial victory for the villagers. However, since the police have failed to acquire the evidence needed to bring to justice the mastermind(s), it still demonstrates a failure of justice and this may perpetuate the culture of impunity.

“I hope that this case will prompt the government to come up with measures in compliance with international standards to protect HRDs, to offer remedy to heal the damages caused, and to put at rest this culture of impunity in Thailand.”

Pranom Somwong, Protection International’s Representative in Thailand, said “In Thailand the worst environmental and human rights abuses are caused by those involved in wrongful exploitation of land and natural resources. Corruption in the country’s political and economic structure at both the local and national level only facilitates such rights violations. Land and environmental rights defenders and their movements, such as Dam and the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT) in this case, are the people who have been taking a strong stand in the hope of correcting this ‘ruined’ system. We reiterate our demand that the State discharge its duty to ensure the prompt and independent investigation of all violations against Human Rights Defenders, the speedy prosecution of alleged perpetrators, and that victims are assured ‘just and effective remedies’, including compensation, for victims.”

These protections, duties on obligations depend on political will and action, as well as an effective cooperation between HRDs and the authorities involved, especially the government, the police and the judiciary.

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