Thailand: Dismissal of charges against seven women environmental rights defenders

20/04/2018
Urgent Appeal

New information
THA 003 / 0717 / OBS 075.2

Acquittal
Thailand
April 20, 2018

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has received new information in the following situation in Thailand.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the dismissal of charges against seven women environmental rights defenders, members of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group (KRBKG), a community-based group committed to the defence of the local environment from the negative impacts of an open-pit copper-gold mine, operated by the Tungkum company in Thailand’s Loei Province [1].

According to the information received, on April 19, 2018, the Loei Provincial Court dropped all pending charges against Ms. Pornthip Hongchai, Ms. Viron Rujichaiyavat, Ms. Ranong Kongsaen, Ms. Mon Khunna, Ms. Suphat Khunna, Ms. Boonraeng Srithong, and Ms. Lumplearn Ruengrith. The seven KRBKG members were facing criminal charges and more than five years in prison for peacefully protesting against the local gold mine in November 2016 (see background information).

The Court found the seven environmental defenders not guilty of violating thePublic Assembly Act since the gathering of villagers and KRBKG members did not qualify as a public assembly as it was hosted by the local administrative office. When rendering its verdict, the Court further stated they had merely exercised their right to free expression, which is upheld by the Constitution.

The Observatory welcomes the dismissal of charges against Ms. Pornthip Hongchai, Ms. Viron Rujichaiyavat, Ms. Ranong Kongsaen, Ms. Mon Khunna, Ms. Suphat Khunna, Ms. Boonraeng Srithong, and Ms. Lumplearn Ruengrith, but firmly condemns the judicial harassment they were subjected to with the aimto punish them for their legitimate human rights activities. Moreover, the Observatory recalls that this case was only one of the 21 criminal and civil complaints initiated against villagers in Loei Province, 19 of which were filed by Tungkum.

The Observatory calls upon the Thai authorities to end all forms of harassment -including at the judicial level - against all human rights defenders in Thailand so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance or fear of reprisals.

Background information:

On March 8, 2017, police in Wang Saphung District, Loei Province, charged the seven KRBKG members for violating Article 309 of Thailand’s Criminal Code for forcing local council members to cancel a scheduled meeting. In addition, Ms. Pornthip Hongchai, one of KRBKG leaders and spokespersons, was charged under Articles 10 and 28 of the Public Assembly Act for failing to notify the authorities about the protest. The case was then transferred to the Public Prosecutor to decide whether to indict her based on the police investigation.

On June 13, 2017, the police filed additional charges against the seven rights defenders under Articles 8 and 24 of the Public Assembly Act for holding a public gathering that blocks entries or disrupts service of government agencies. The offense carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a 10,000 THB (258 EUR) fine, or both.

On June 27, 2017, the Public Prosecutor again postponed the indictment of the seven KRBKG members. The indictment was originally scheduled for May 25, 2017 but was postponed first to June 27, 2017 and finally to July 25, 2017.

On July 25, 2017, the seven members of KRBKG were formally indicted by the Loei Provincial Court Prosecutor under Articles 4, 8, 10, 27 and 28 of the Public Assembly Act and Sections 83, 91 and 309 of the Criminal Code. The seven defenders were briefly placed in the custody of the court while they awaited indictment and a bail order. At around 2pm, the seven rights defenders were granted temporary release without the requirement of a bail deposit but on the condition that they report themselves to Loei Provincial Court on any occasion when ordered by the court until the trial was completed.

The seven were indicted for their involvement in legitimate human rights activities on November 16, 2016, when more than 200 KRBKG members and villagers marched from Ban Na Nong Bong village to the Khao Laung Sub-District Administrative Council Office in Loei Province, and peacefully staged a peaceful sit-in protest in front of the Council meeting room. The protest was aimed at demanding community participation in the decision-making process ahead of a scheduled meeting of the Council to decide whether to grant Tungkum permission to use forest land for their mining operations. Members of the Administrative Council ultimately called off the scheduled meeting due to the protest and filed a complaint with the police.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Thailand asking them to:

i. Immediately and unconditionally put an end to all acts of judicial harassment - including at the judicial level - against all human rights defenders in Thailand so that they are able to carry out their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals;

ii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in Thailand;

iii. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Articles 1 and Article 12.2;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Thailand.

Addresses:

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, Prime Minister of Thailand, Fax: +66 (0) 2 282 5131
Mr. Don Pramudwinai, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, Fax: +66 (0) 2 643 5320; Email: minister@mfa.go.th
Mr. Suwaphan Tanyuvardhna, Minister of Justice of Thailand, Fax: +66 (0) 2 953 0503
Pol Gen Chaktip Chaijinda, Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police, Fax: +66 (0) 2 251 5956 / +66 (0) 2 251 8702
Mr. Wat Tingsamit, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, Email: help@nhrc.or.th
H.E. Mr. Thani Thongphakdi, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 715 10 00 / 10 02; Email: mission.thailand@ties.itu.int
Embassy of Thailand in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 648 30 66; Email: thaibxl@pophost.eunet.be
Mr. Wichit Chiamwichitkun, Chief Executive Director and Chairman of the Executive Board, Tongkah Harbour Public Company Limited (of which Tungkum Ltd. is a subsidiary company), Bangkok, Thailand, Fax: +66 2 694 4420, +66 2 695 4901; Email: info@tongkahharbour.com.

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Thailand in your respective country.

***
Geneva-Paris, April 20, 2018

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
Tel and fax FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

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