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Thailand: Prominent Activist Feared ‘Disappeared’

"Billy was taken for questioning regarding an unlawful wild bee honeycomb and six bottles of honey allegedly found in his possession"

The Thai authorities should urgently provide information about a prominent ethnic Karen activist who is believed to have been forcibly disappeared, Human Rights Watch said today. Por Cha Lee Rakchongcharoen, known as “Billy,” was reportedly arrested on April 17, 2014, in Kaengkrachan National Park in Petchaburi province and released, but his current whereabouts are unknown.

Local authorities have not disclosed either Billy’s detention or any evidence of his release, raising grave concerns of his safety, Human Rights Watch said. Billy was involved in a lawsuit against park officials.

“The apparent disappearance of this prominent Karen activist demands an immediate government response,” said, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thai authorities should not stay silent about Billy’s case but explain what happened to him.”

The head of the Kaengkrachan National Park Office, Chaiwat Limlikitaksor, told local activists on April 18 that Billy had been detained at a checkpoint the previous afternoon. He said Billy was taken for questioning regarding an unlawful wild bee honeycomb and six bottles of honey allegedly found in his possession. Chaiwat also said Billy had been released after questioning and that he had no information regarding his whereabouts. 

At the time of his alleged disappearance, Billy was travelling from his village in the mountains to Petchaburi province's Kaengkrachan district to meet with ethnic Karen villagers and activists in preparation for an upcoming court hearing in the lawsuit filed by the villagers against the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and the head of Kaengkrachan National Park. The villagers alleged in the lawsuit that in July 2011, the authorities were responsible for the destruction and burning of houses and property of more than 20 Karen families who were living in the Bangkloybon Villages in the national park.

Billy was also preparing to submit a petition about this case to Thailand’s king. He had been carrying case files and related documents with him.

Villagers and local activists have made several attempts to contact Billy, but without success. On April 19, Billy’s family filed a complaint with the local police regarding his alleged enforced disappearance.

On September 10, 2011, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Tatkamol Ob-om, a Thai activist from Billy’s network, shortly after he helped Karen villagers report on alleged abuses, violence, illegal logging, and poaching committed by park officials. In January 2012, the Phetchaburi provincial court accepted a case against Chaiwat, the head of the Kaengkrachan National Park Office, charging him with masterminding Tatkamol’s murder. Four alleged accomplices have been indicted for premeditated murder. Despite that, Chaiwat has not been suspended from duty as required under disciplinary regulations regarding officials under criminal investigation. Chaiwat’s presence at the national park has been a cause of fear among local activists and villagers, particularly those involved in lawsuits against him.

Under international law, a government commits an enforced disappearance when state officials take a person into custody and then deny holding the person, or conceal or fail to disclose the person’s whereabouts. Family members and lawyers are not informed of the person’s whereabouts, well-being, or legal status. “Disappeared” people are often at high risk of torture, especially when they are detained outside of formal detention facilities such as police jails and prisons.

“National parks should be a place to enjoy natural beauty and serene vistas, not a place for officials to abuse people,” Adams said. “So long as Billy’s whereabouts are unknown, a sense of fear will stalk the park communities demanding their rights.” 

Source: Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/20/thailand-prominent-activist-feared-disappeared

April 20th, 2014


Senior park official faces probe

Kaeng krachan national park chief to be moved if investigators find him guilty

 

A NATIONAL PARK CHIEF, whose name has been linked to the recent disappearance of a prominent Karen activist, is now facing investigation by his supervising agency.

"I have already set up a fact-finding committee to look into the issue," Nipon Chotibal said yesterday as the acting director general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).

Nipon said he had given the committee 15 days to conclude the probe.

Por Cha Lee Rakchongcharoen, also known as "Billy", has been missing since April 17.

Kaeng Krachan National Park chief Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, who was known to have had conflicts with Billy, was seen with the activist in Phetchaburi before the latter disappeared.

According to Nipon, Chaiwat insisted that he met Billy last Thursday only to ask him about the wild-bee honey he had in his possession.

"Chaiwat said that Billy was allowed to return home after the questioning. He has university-student trainees as witnesses," Nipon said, adding that Chaiwat would be transferred if found guilty.

However, several organisations believe that Chaiwat should be transferred first to facilitate a fair and transparent investigation.

Police are also looking into Billy's disappearance.

"If the investigation does not progress in a reasonable manner, we will petition to the United Nations Human Rights Council," said a joint statement released by the Karen Network for Culture and Environment, the Network of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand and allied non-governmental organisations.

They suspect that Billy's role in filing a lawsuit against Chaiwat and the DNP may have something to do with his disappearance. Three years ago, officials set fire to the homes of Karen villagers living in the Kaeng Krachan National Park, and Billy helped the villagers take their case to the Administrative Court.

Billy is scheduled to testify in court on May 19.

Appeal to Yingluck

Representatives of the Karen peoples' networks and other organisations yesterday handed a letter addressed to caretaker Prime Minister Shinawatra to the Chiang Mai governor, in which they demanded that Billy be located as soon as possible and the culprits be brought to justice. They also asked for Billy's family to be provided with protection.

Phetchaburi police chief Maj-General Phirachart Ruenrerng said he had assigned his deputy Colonel Surasak Suksawaeng to lead an investigation into the case.

"We are scouring target areas in the Kaeng Krachan district in a bid to locate him," he said.

Maj-General Pairoj Thongma-eng, chief of the 9th Infantry Division, said he had ordered a special taskforce to patrol Kaeng Krachan National Park's areas to facilitate the search for Billy.

Source: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/Senior-park-official-faces-probe-30232029.html

April 23rd, 2014

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