The Supreme Court has ordered the army to pay compensation of over two million baht to the family of Lahu ethnic activist Chaiyaphum Pasae, who was shot and killed by military officers in 2017.
Photos of Chaiyaphum placed in front of his grave during a memorial event in March 2022.
Chaiyaphum was an indigenous rights activist working in northern Thailand and was involved in numerous campaigns for indigenous peoples to gain citizenship and access to basic welfare. He spoke out against abuses by state officials against his community during anti-drug operations.
He was also a filmmaker and songwriter, and had been awarded a prize at the 16th Thai Short Film and Video Festival for a short film called ‘Belt and Comb.’ Several of his short documentaries were also broadcast on Thai PBS.
Chaiyaphum was shot and killed by military officers at Ban Rin Luang checkpoint in Chiang Dao District, Chiang Mai, on 17 March 2017. He was 17 years old.
The officers claimed that they found drugs in Chaiyaphum’s car and had to shoot him because he resisted the search and tried to throw a grenade at them. However, an eyewitness told Thai PBS that Chaiyaphum was dragged out of the car, beaten and shot. Forensic evidence found that Chaiyaphum died from a gunshot wound to the chest from an M16 assault rifle.
While the Chiang Mai Provincial Court’s June 2018 inquest found that he was killed by an army bullet, it did not rule whether his death was a result of extrajudicial killing or whether the officers’ action was lawful. The court also did not request the CCTV footage of Chaiyaphum’s death, despite requests from the family’s lawyer. Although the examination report from the Police’s Office of Forensic Science stated that the CCTV cameras and hard disks were not broken and there was no deletion or addition of files in the recorder, the court never asked where it was. The footage has never been released and remains missing.
In May 2019, Napoi Pasae, Chaiyaphum’s mother, filed a civil lawsuit claiming damages from the army. Both the Bangkok Civil Court and the Appeal Court dismissed her suit, ruling that the army was not liable for compensation to the family because the officers shot Chaiyaphum in self-defense.
The family subsequently filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. Yesterday (16 November), the Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF), which has been assisting the family, said the Court ordered the army to pay a compensation of 2,072,400 baht to the family, along with an interest of 7.5% per year from 17 March 2017 – 10 April 2021 and 5% from 11 April 2021 until it delivers the entire compensation. It must also cover the family’s court and legal fees.
CrCF said that the Supreme Court found abnormalities in the evidence presented by the army. Witness testimonies were inconsistent, including that of an army volunteer who said he was trying to seize a knife from Chaiyaphum while in the trunk of the car, which did not match the testimony of an army private who said the struggle took place outside the car. The army private also testified that he saw a bomb on the ground 10 – 20 metres from Chaiyaphum’s body, but another army officer said the bomb was in his hand.
The Court found it unusual that there was not enough DNA found on the bomb handle for identification. The ruling noted that there should have been more of Chaiyaphum’s DNA and fingerprints on the bomb if he was holding it while running over 50 metres and trying to pull the pin to throw it at the officers. An expert on explosives from the Office of the Court of Justice further testified that the bomb found at the scene had not been used.
An inquiry officer testified that there were 9 CCTV cameras at the scene, 5 of which were functional. The Court found it suspicious that the army did not hand over the hard drive until April 2017 and that no footage of Chaiyaphum’s murder was found, even though there was a record of a file from around the date of the murder being copied.
The Court found more credibility in the testimony of a witness who said he saw Chaiyaphum running away from his car and the army officers. In an interview with a reporter immediately after the murder, the witness also asserted said Chaiyaphum did not take anything out of the trunk of the car, a claim that the Court concluded was more in line with the other pieces of evidence.
Chaiyaphum's mother placing a fabric flower onto his grave during the March 2022 memorial event.
Napoi told Protection International, whose representatives attended the trial, that she was happy with the verdict. Chaiyaphum was the family’s breadwinner, she said, and the family has suffered in the years since his murder. After 6 years of legal proceedings, Napoi now feels her family has received justice, and thanked the organisations that supported them.
Protection International representative Pranom Somwong welcomed the verdict, but asked why the army and government waited for the family to file a lawsuit before compensating them for Chaiyaphum’s death at the hands of army officials. The lack of an official apology and compensation has led many to the believe that the previous military government was protecting those responsible, she said.
“To create a good precedence for the benefit of society overall, we hope that the current government will not only compensate Chaiyaphum’s family beyond what the court ordered but also punish those responsible in line with the principles of justice when taking responsibility an extrajudicial killing of a citizen by state officials,” Pranom said.