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The family of indigenous rights activist Porlajee Rakchongcharoen has filed a lawsuit against the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP) for 26 million baht in damages over park officials’ involvement in Porlajee’s alleged abduction and murder.

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet (center), director of the Cross-Cultural Foundation, and Pinnapa Pruksapan (right), Porlajee's widow, arriving at the Ratchadapisek Civil Court on Thursday (5 April).
(Photo by Ginger Cat).

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, Director of the Cross-Cultural Foundation, said that the family is suing the DNP because it is the original affiliation of officials who were last seen with Porlajee and should be liable for damages caused by the officials’ actions. She hopes that the lawsuit will set a precedent and that government agencies will have to prevent their officials from violating people’s rights so that the government does not have to spend taxpayer’s money on compensation.

A community and indigenous rights activist and leader of the Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community, Porlajee had been campaigning for his community’s right to return to the original location of their village at Chai Phaen Din in the Kaeng Krachan forest, to live according to their traditional way of life and for them to be compensated for the damages caused during a forced evacuation in 2011.

He was last seen on 17 April 2014, when he was detained by then-Superintendent of Kaeng Krachan National Park Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn and four other officials for allegedly foraging for wild honey. Chaiwat insisted he only held Porlajee 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 Porlajees by DNA testing, leading to speculation by DSI officers that his body was burned to destroy evidence.

Chaiwat, now Director of the DNP, and three other park officials were charged with pre-meditated murder and indicted in August 2022 for their alleged involvement in Porlajees abduction and death. In September 2023, the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct dismissed charges against them on the grounds that there is not enough evidence proving that they abducted and murdered Porlajee or that he has died.

However, the Court found Chaiwat guilty of misconduct for not recording Porlajee’s arrest and not handing him over to the local police to be charged for being in possession of wild honey. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison but is now released on bail pending appeal.

Porlajee’s widow Pinnapa Pruksapan is representing his mother and children in the legal proceedings. “I want justice. A person went missing. There certainly has to be a reason. Some person or agency that is involved must take responsibility,” she said.

The Ratchadapisek Civil Court accepted the lawsuit and scheduled the pre-trial conference on 10 June. It also waived the family's court fees due to their financial situation.

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