Losing faith in justice system in Thailand – good editorial in Bangkok Post

April 27, 2013

I am re-publishing this excellent editorial that appeared in the Bangkok Post of 25 Apr 2013 about the lack of protection for environmental human rights defenders in Thailand. If only more newspapers carried such succinct and clear opinions:

The rally in front of the Appeal Court on Tuesday by 300 residents from Prachuap Khiri Khan to demand transparency in the murder case of environment defender Charoen Wat-aksorn attracted scant media attention.That is not surprising at all as most mainstream media have lost interest in the case, which has dragged on for almost a decade since the victim’s murder on June 21, 2004, regrettably with justice yet to be served _ at least in the mind of Charoen’s widow, his friends and supporters. It is understandable why these rural residents had to travel from their hometown more than 200 kilometres away to gather in front of the court, albeit in a peaceful and civilised manner, to demonstrate their “reaction” against the courts recent acquittal of the last suspect in Charoen’s murder case, 51-year-old Thanu Hinkaew. Their presence in Bangkok was not meant to protest against the Appeal Courts acquittal but merely to seek an explanation from the court and to ensure the case would be treated with transparency when prosecutors appeal against the verdict to the Supreme Court. The prosecutors in charge of the case have assured the demonstrators they will do their best. But an explanation from the Appeal Court will not be forthcoming as it is not the tradition of the court to explain its verdicts to any individuals who have doubts about them. As a matter of fact, the explanation about Charoen’s case is already available in the verdict itself. In this particular case, five suspects, including four from the Hinkaew clan, were put on trial. However, two of them, the alleged shooters Saneh Lekluan and Prachuab Hinkaew, died in jail in 2006 during the trial amid mysterious circumstances. In 2008, the Criminal Court acquitted Manote and Juea Hinkaew and sentenced Thanu Hinkaew to death. However, on March 15 this year, the Appeal Court acquitted Thanu on the grounds of weak evidence. The court ruled that although Thanu was implicated as the mastermind of the murder by Saneh and Prachuab during police investigation, their testimony could not be confirmed before the court as they had since died. Thanu’s acquittal was a result of a technicality. Had the men been alive, the verdict might have been different. Nevertheless, the courts acquittal of the last suspect in Charoen’s murder will certainly cast the Thai justice system in a bad light in the eyes of the international community and human rights advocacy groups. The verdict may also lead to a loss of faith and confidence in the judicial system among dedicated environmental activists in this country. The track record of the justice system in dealing with the killings or forced disappearances of environmental and human rights defenders has been disappointing, to say the least. According to Asian Human Rights Watch, more than 20 human rights and environment defenders have been murdered or have disappeared mysteriously here since 2001. These included Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit who remains unaccounted for 10 years after his abduction; Phra Supoj Suwajano, an environmentalist monk who had been protesting against illegal logging in Chiang Mai, and was stabbed to death in June 2005; and Prajob Nao-opas who led villagers in a campaign to expose the dumping of toxic waste in Chachoengsao province and who was killed in February this year. The sad part of these tragedies is that in most cases, the real culprits escape. Even if they are caught and tried, the chances are they are more likely be acquitted rather than being convicted due to weak evidence.”

via Losing faith in justice system | Bangkok Post: opinion.

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