Police say testimony on disappearance of Karen activist is flawed

Almost two years of after the disappearance of a Karen activist, the police have found several flaws in the testimony of national park officers and put up a 200,000 baht reward for information.

Last Thursday, 14 January 2016, Angkhana Neelapaijit, Head of the Sub-Committee on Civil Rights of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), held a meeting to review progress in the case of the enforced disappearance of Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, aka Billy, a Karen human and community rights activist, who disappeared on 17 April 2014.

The meet was held after Phinnapha Phrueksaphan, Billy’s wife, submitted a request to the NHRC, asking for progress on the case.

It was attended by Pol Col Triwit Namthongtai, head of the investigation team, Pol Lt Col Sethsathit Suwannakud, Director of the investigation team of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), and Pol Lt Col Siripong Sritula, Director of Region 2 of the Office of Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), who came to inform the NHRC about evidence and progress on the case.

Triwit said during the meeting that the testimony of officers of Kaeng Krachan National Park who were involved in the detention of Billy before his disappearance is ‘inconsistent’.

On the day of Billy’s disappearance, Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, then Superintendent of Kaeng Krachan National Park in western Phetchaburi Province, and four other park officials arrested and detained Billy for allegedly possessing an illegal wild bee honeycomb and six bottles of honey.

In 2011, Billy assisted Karen villagers to file a lawsuit against Chaiwat in the Administrative Court. He accused the park chief of forcibly evicting and burning the houses of ethnic Karen villagers in Pong Luk Bang Kloy.

During the investigation, the park officers said that they released Billy after detaining him briefly and that they are not involved in his disappearance.

The Police Colonel told the NHRC and others at the meeting that the park officers gave different information about the spot where Billy was released after his detention.

Triwit added that from the CCTV footage taken during the time when Chaiwat said that Billy was released, it does not appear that Chaiwat drove home after taking Billy in his car to be set free as he testified earlier.

The Royal Thai Police will give a 100,000 baht cash reward to persons who can provide useful information on the case, Triwit said.

Pol Lt Col Sethsathit said that a sub-committee of the DSI is now considering whether to accept the case as a special case or not. Nonetheless, the DSI investigator added that the DSI has collected testimony from 283 witnesses in the case and has taken seven Kaeng Krachan Park Office vehicles for examination as bloodstains were found on the carpet of one of the cars after Billy’s disappearance.

He added that the DSI also put up another 100,000 baht as a reward for clues to Billy’s disappearance.

PACC Region 2 Director Pol Lt Col Siripong said that the PACC gathered testimony from witnesses on the case after it accepted the case file for consideration and that the PACC will submit the case file to the prosecutor in March 2016.

He added that the prosecutor will make the final decision whether to file charges under Article 157 of the Criminal Code, malfeasance in office, against the officers involved in the detention of Billy prior to his disappearance.

The NHRC’s Civil Rights Sub-Committee chairperson, Angkhana, pointed out at the meeting that according to the UN, there are 82 cases of enforced disappearance documented in Thailand.

As Thailand has not yet criminalized enforced disappearance, the existing law only recognizes a murder case when there is a dead body. Therefore, most enforced disappearance cases are left unresolved.

“The NHRC will propose that the government ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICCPED). After ratification, [the NHRC] will push for a law which will prevent and suppress torture and enforced disappearance,” said Angkhana.  

In December 2015, in a landmark case to set a legal standard on enforced disappearance, the Thai Supreme Court acquitted five police officers allegedly involved in the enforced disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit, a Muslim human rights lawyer, Angkhana’s husband, who disappeared on 12 March, 2004, a few days after he found out that his clients had been tortured and forced to confess while in the hands of the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) and exposed the torture allegations.

He was forcibly disappeared by five police officers, some of whom were identified by Somchai’s clients as the torturers. His body was never found and the only officer to be convicted of coercion and robbery went missing.

The Supreme Court confirmed the earlier ruling of the Appeal Court to acquit all the defendants due to insufficient evidence and also ruled that Somchai’s wife, Angkhana, could not act on her husband’s behalf as joint plaintiff, reasoning that it could not be confirmed that Somchai had been murdered.

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