Murdered activist’s widow requests continued witness protection

Pinnapa Pruksapan, widow of murdered indigenous rights activist Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, has requested that the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) continue to protect her and her family, after the DSI said that they are not important witnesses in Porlajee’s murder trial and will no longer keep them under its protection.

Pinnapa Pruksapan speaking at a panel discussion during a memorial event for Porlajee on 23 April.

The Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) published a letter from Pinnapa on Thursday (25 May), which it said has also been delivered to the DSI Director. In the letter, Pinnapa asks the DSI to continue protecting her and her family, who are witnesses in Porlajee’s murder trial and to facilitate their attendance at the remaining witness examination hearings.

Pinnapa told CrCF that a DSI official met her on 18 May and told her that the DSI will no longer keep her under witness protection because she is not an important witness in the trial. This caused her concerns as park officials indicted for her husband’s murder are still in office, and because her family has faced constant harassment following his disappearance, while false information has been spread about them, causing misunderstanding.

She noted that Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, now Director of the National Parks Office in the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP), still holds an important position and works in the Kaeng Krachan area, causing Pinnapa and her children to fear for their own safety.

A community and indigenous rights activist and a leader of the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community, Porlajee was last seen on 17 April 2014, after he was detained by then-Superintendent of Kaeng Krachan National Park Chaiwat and four other officials for allegedly foraging for wild honey. Chaiwat insisted he held Porlajee only for questioning before letting him go and denied any involvement in his disappearance.

In September 2019, fragments of a human skull were found in a 200-litre oil drum in the Kaeng Krachan Dam, along with 2 steel rods and pieces of charcoal. The bone fragments were later confirmed to be Porlajee’s by DNA testing, leading to speculation by DSI officers that his body was burned to destroy evidence.

Chaiwat and three other park officials were charged with pre-meditated murder and indicted in August 2022 for their alleged involvement in Porlajee’s abduction and death. The trial began on 24 April, 9 years after Porlajee went missing. Pinnapa and Porlajee’s mother Phairochi Rakchongcharoen were the first witnesses summoned to the stand.

Before the trial, civil society organizations demanded that the four park officials be suspended to ensure that the trial will be handled properly. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has not responded to the demand.

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