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46 civil society organisations have called for the release of the wife of a disappeared community rights activist imprisoned for land encroachment.

On 3 November 2017, representatives of 46 civil society organisations submitted a petition to Cheep Chulamon, the president of the Supreme Court, calling for the release of Suphab Khamlae, 67, a villager of Khok Yao village in Chaiyaphum Province.

The Supreme Court in July confirmed the lower court’s verdict to sentence Suphab and her husband, Den Khamlae, to six months imprisonment for encroaching into a protected area.

Den has, however, been missing since April 2016 after he went into the forest to find bamboo shoots.

Aoranuch Ponpinyo, coordinator of Esaan Land Reform Network who is one of the representative, said Suphab is elderly and that the charge against her is not serious since it is related to flawed public policy because the villagers of  Khok Yao village settled down in the area long before the authorities declared it as protected area.

She said the court should have put her on probation or ordered her to do social service instead given the nature of the crime.

Some of the 46 organisations are: the Cross Cultural Organisation, Esaan Land Reform Network, WeMove, Union for Civil Liberty.

Den had been active in campaigning for the land rights of landless farmers Chaiyaphum. In 1980s, he and other villagers successfully opposed the relocation plan proposed by the government then.

Suphab believes that her husband was murdered. In March, a human skull was discovered in the jungle close to Khok Yao Village. The Central Institute of Forensic Science, however, did not confirm the skull belonged to Den, but stated that it belonged to someone related to his sister, according to Khaosod English.

About a month after the coup d’état in May 2014, the Thai junta issued National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) Order No. 64/2014, a master plan to replant forests nationwide, which lays out strict legal measures against land encroachers and poachers of forest products.

The order on one level is successful in dealing with resorts and plantations of investors who encroached into protected forests. However, it has also resulted in the eviction of thousands of villagers, many of whom have been settled long before the areas were officially designated as national parks or protected areas. According to the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD), approximately 1.2 million people living on land that overlaps protected areas could be affected.

Suphab Khamlae (right) (file photo)

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