Thailand, 30 October 2014- On 29 October the case of Human Rights Defender Surapun Rujichaiwat versus Tungkum Limited (TKL) (Case No: Aor 4471/2557) came before Judge Suttitam Ratanasaenyaakornupaap and Judge Watcharapon Maaisawat at the Phuket provincial court complex.
Surapun Rujichaiwat is one of two human rights defenders who is facing charges. Mr. Rujichaiwat and fellow HRD Ms. Porntip Hongchai have both been accused by TKL of damaging the company’s reputation during individual interviews with television stations TNN 24 and Nation TV, on May 16-17 respectively.
During May 16-17 2014, both human rights defenders talked to several media and highlighted the events of 15 May 2014. On this day at around 10.00 pm, a group of approximately 300 unidentified armed men wearing black clothing entered the village and beat up more than 45 villagers in the Nanongbong village. Moreover, about 13 trucks were seen transporting materials from the mine.
Both HRDs are members of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd (KRBK) community. The KRBK group consists of villagers from 6 villages affected by the gold mining operations of the gold-mining company TKL. The KRBK group strives to protect the environment and defend natural resources against exploitation by unethical investors who have no respect for the well-being of the local people and community, environment, public health, and human rights. More information about the struggles of this group and the area in Thailand where they are most active can be found attached to this article.
Phuket provincial court‘s Judge has ruled to proceed with the criminal defamation case against HRD Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat despite the lack of video or photographic evidence presented in court. TKL filed the charges against Mr. Rujichaiwat, along with separate charges against HRD Ms. Porntip Hongchai, on 15 August 2014 in the Phuket Provincial Court.
A preliminary hearing of the case against Mr. Rujichaiwat was held on 20 October 2014. It was at this time that the plaintiffs, TKL Company, were to present their evidence against the HRD defendant. From this preliminary hearing, the judge determined if the evidence presented met the necessary burden of proof for the case to go to trial. During this preliminary hearing, no video nor photographic evidence was presented of Mr. Rujichaiwat giving the aforementioned interview to TV station TNN 24.
The only evidence of the interview, from which the defamation case is based, presented in court was video footage of the report from TNN 24 during which a news anchor read alleged statements from Mr. Rujichaiwat. The trial is being carried out without sufficient evidence of the charges laid out against the HRD defendant, which raises grave concerns over the impartiality of the judge’s decision on 29 October to proceed.
Representatives of the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) were present to observe the trial. Representatives from civil society, and human rights groups were also present in court.
On 3 November 2014, a judge will determine if the defamation suit against fellow KRBK group leader and HRD Ms. Hongchai will go to trial. The date of 9 February 2015, 1.30 pm has been set for the trial of Mr. Rujichaiwat to commence.
Protection International has been monitoring the situation in Loei closely. You can find more coverage of Thailand.
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