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Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, former Superintendent of Kaeng Krachan National Park, has filed a perjury complaint against human rights lawyer Waraporn Utairangsee, who was the legal representative for the Bang Kloi Indigenous Karen community and its spiritual leader Ko-i Meemi.

Commuinity members who came to support Waraporn at the police station gave her flowers. (Photo from Transborder News)

Waraporn went to Kaeng Krachan Provincial Police Station on Wednesday (31 August) to hear the charges after receiving a police summons on charges of perjury causing damage to another person, when knowing that the offence has not been committed, or with malicious intent.

The complaint was filed against her by Chaiwat, who claimed that Waraporn committed perjury by acting on behalf of Ko-i and the Bang Kloi community and filing a complaint against Chaiwat for burning down the houses and rice barns in the Chai Phaen Din village in the Kaeng Krachan forest between 5 – 9 May 2011. Chaiwat claimed that it was perjury because the houses that were burned down were unoccupied, and that the burning did not take place on 5 - 9 May 2011.

The Bang Kloi indigenous Karen community lived at Chai Phaen Din in the Kaeng Krachan forest before the area became a national park in 1981. In 1996, they were evicted and moved to the Pong Luek - Bang Kloi village, but returned to Chai Phaen Din as they could not adjust to living at Bang Kloi village. In 2011, they were forcibly evicted again, and their houses and rice barns were burned down by park officials.

With support from the Lawyers’ Council, Ko-i and five other community members filed charges against the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment for the burning of their village. 

In 2016, the Administrative Court ordered the DNP to pay a compensation of 10,000 baht each to Ko-i and 5 other members of the Bang Kloi community for the burning of their houses. In June 2018, the Supreme Administrative Court amended the ruling and ordered the DNP to pay a compensation of around 50,000 baht for each community member, but did not allow them to return to their lands.

Ko-i passed away at the age of 107 on 5 October 2018, before he was able to receive compensation from the DNP.  

According to the Thai Criminal Code, giving false information to an official which may cause damage to another person carries a prison sentence of up to 2 years, or a fine of up to 40,000 baht, or both. Giving false information to an official when one knows that the offense was not committed carries a prison sentence of up to 3 years and a fine of up to 60, 000 baht. If the false information is given with malicious intent or intending to cause the person to receive a more severe penalty carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to 100,000 baht.

Members of indigenous communities around Kaeng Krachan came to support Waraporn while she reports to Kaeng Krachan police. (Photo from Transborder News)

While reporting to Kaeng Krachan Provincial Police Station, Waraporn was greeted by around 60 people from indigenous communities in the Kaeng Krachan area who came to show their support.

Aphisit Charoensuk, a member of the Bang Kloi community, said that he wanted to show support for Waraporn, because she has been providing support for the community. He said he felt that the charges against Waraporn reflect how things are in society, as she has been supporting them in their fight for community rights. Nevertheless, he said that the lawsuit did not discourage the community.

Meanwhile, Akkarin Tonnamphet, another member of the Bang Kloi community, said that Waraporn has always stood by the community, so they wanted to support her. He said that the community will not stop fighting for their rights, because they will not give up as long as their lawyer does not give up.

Waraporn told her supporters after her meeting with Kaeng Krachan police that she will continue to stand by the communities and is not afraid of being charged. She noted that Chaiwat has the right to file a complaint against her if he feels that the complaint filed by the Bang Kloi community damaged him, but he would also have to prove to society whether the burning of Chai Phaen Din village is true.

On Wednesday (31 August), the Cross-Cultural Foundation (CrCF) Facebook page posted a statement signed by CrCF, the Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA), EnLAW Foundation, the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL), and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) showing support for Waraporn.

The statement noted that lawyers must be able to do their jobs freely and without the fear that they will also be considered a party to a conflict. According to the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, it is the duty of a government to ensure that lawyers are able to perform their professional functions “without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference,” and to ensure that they are not threatened with “prosecution or administrative, economic, or other sanctions” for performing their duties.

The statement called on judicial officers to be aware that Waraporn has performed her duties according to professional ethics and as a volunteer lawyer who was assigned by the Lawyers’ Council to provide legal counsel for people facing serious human right violations, and asked whether the charges against her, which could prevent the public from scrutinizing and filing complaints against government agencies, can be considered harassment.

The 6 organizations called on the government to come up with measures to end strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) against lawyers and human rights defenders, and not to allow the justice system to be exploited by those with influence or conflict of interest. They also called on the Lawyers’ Council and other lawyers to protect the right of lawyers to perform their duties to protect human rights, as well as to support Waraporn as she fights her case.

Meanwhile, Chaiwat and other park officials have been charged and indicted with premeditated murder for the abduction and murder of community rights activist and Bang Kloi community leader Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who went missing in 2014 and whose remains were found in 2019. Chaiwat was also previously accused of involvement in the killing of another Karen land rights activist, Tassakamon Ob-om, just three years prior to Porlajee’s disappearance, but was acquitted.

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