Cover photo description: Mr Dam On-muang outside of the courthouse on 26 August 2021
On 26 August 2021, at 9:00 am, the Wiang Sra Provincial Court of Surat Thani delivered the verdict on Black Case no. O18/2564 concerning the attempted assassination of Mr. Dam On-muang. Mr. Dam is a lands right defender and a member of Santi Pattana Community, which is a part of the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT). The court found Chimrueng to be guilty of attempted assassination and sentenced him to 13 years and 16 months of imprisonment. Chimrueng is also ordered to pay an additional 30,000 baht to Mr. Dam for compensation.
Mr Dam was nearly killed on 20 October 2020 at about 1:00 am, when he and four other members of the Santi Pattana Community were patrolling the entrance of their community. The assailant charged on the scene and fired his gun at Mr. Dam’s head. Fortunately, the bullets did not hit Mr Dam.
The perpetrator was later identified to be Mr Somphon Chimrueng. Chimrueng was formerly employed by a private oil palm company that was disputing with the community. The police arrested him at his home and seized his firearm. He was later indicted for attempted murder according to the Penal Code and for being in possession of a firearm and ammunition without a permit.
The witness examinations in this case took place from 29-30 June 2021, and Mr. Dam’s legal team worked closely with the Wiang Sra public prosecutors to ensure that the process continued moving forward.
Mr. Dam On-muang said that he was satisfied with the decision and feels that justice had been served. Mr. Dam asked for 60,000 baht (approximately 1,537 euros) as compensation. Mr Chimrueng has already paid him 30,000 baht (according to the summary of the verdict) and now he will need to pay the remaining 30,000 baht. Mr. Dam added that he is extremely grateful to all those that provided him persistent support, including the SPFT, Protection International and his legal team.
Over the next 30 days, the legal team will wait to see if the guilty verdict will be appealed by Mr Chimrueng. If the appeal motion has been filed, Ms Amphon Sangthong and the legal team intend to file a counter claim. Ms Sangthong is sure that enough evidence has been acquired to secure the current outcome and she is ready to continue the legal fight alongside Mr Dam.
Pranom Somwong, Protection International’s Representative in Thailand said that “In Thailand the worst environmental and human rights abuses are caused by those involved in wrongful exploitation of land and natural resources. Corruption in the country’s political and economic structure both at the local and national level only facilitates such rights violation. Land and environmental rights defenders and their movements, such as Mr. Dam and The Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand as in this case, are the people who have been taking a strong stand in the hope of correcting this ‘ruined’ system.”
One of the other members of the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT) and an authorized legal representative of Mr. Dam, Ms. Natthaphan Saengthap, said that she is thrilled that Dam has received justice. She laments the fact, however, that many other perpetrators in crimes against other members of SPFT have not yet been brought to trial. “Many other groups in Thailand are demanding justice and such justice must be equally provided to all other groups as well,” she said.
To date, four of Mr Dam’s fellow human rights defenders and SPFT community members have been assassinated and another has been a victim of attempted assassination. Ms Amphon Sangthong, Mr. Dam’s attorney, noted that this case is very significant since it is the first time that a perpetrator who has committed a crime against the SPFT has been identified and brought to justice.
Angkhana Neelapaijit, the former National Human Rights Commissioner for Thailand, noted that “since the police have failed to acquire evidence needed to bring to justice the mastermind(s), it still demonstrates a failure of justice and this may perpetuate the culture of impunity… I hope that this case shall prompt the government to come up with measures in compliance with international standards to protect HRDs, to offer remedy to heal the damages caused, and to put at rest this culture of impunity in Thailand.”
Those protections depend on political will and action, as well as an effective cooperation between HRDs, government officials, the police and the judiciary. Ms Somwong reiterated her demand that “the state fulfil their duty to ensure the prompt and independent investigation of all violations against human rights defenders, the speedy prosecution of alleged perpetrators and that victims are assured just and effective remedies, including compensation, for victims.”