A local security officer fires gunshot to threaten a community of human rights defenders
[Bangkok] 19 January 2021 – On 12 January 2021, Khon Rak Ban Kerd’s (KRBK) peaceful protest against gold mining was troubled by a local public officer, who eventually shot at two of the protesters. One of the two was Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, known as “Pai Daodin”, a high-profile, young human rights defender who was previously imprisoned and is currently facing multiple charges for his participation in several pro-democracy protests. Fortunately, no one was injured.
Mr Inthara Thanakrit, a local security officer of the Wang Saphung District, arrived near the entrance of the gold mine in Loei Province and joined a group of officers who form a security force called “Chor Ro Bor”. The group was there to provide protection for the KRBK members, who had requested appropriate security assistance from the Royal Thai Police and the regional authorities that very morning, after several months of experiencing different episodes of harassment. KRBK is a community-based group of environmental human rights defenders from six different villages who have been protesting against gold mining since 2006 and denouncing the detrimental impact these activities are having on them, their health and the environment.
Within 15 minutes of his arrival, Mr Thanakrit, who appeared to be drunk, started provoking a member of the community’s security team. The provocation escalated rapidly into verbal and physical violence, and targeted other members of the KRBK and other organisations also present — namely the Campaign for Public Policy on Mineral Resources (PPM)1, and UNME of Anarchy.2
Questionable police performance
The police arrived within half an hour to investigate the crime scene and, several hours later, arrested and detained Mr Thanakrit. The KRBK group objected to any immediate release of the gunman and demanded he be held under police arrest for as long as the law provides, which is a maximum of 48 hours. Yet, not even 24 hours after the incident, members of KRBK, who were present at the police station to give their testimonies, were shocked to discover that the gunman was walking freely around the interview rooms and waiting areas. Mr Thanakrit had been released on bail of just 20,000 baht (around €550/$663) and the police failed to inform any of the victims.
Never-ending wave of violence
This attack is just one of the many episodes of ongoing violence and harassment that the KRBK have experienced in the last years. The most violent incident occurred on 15 May 2014, when around 200 men entered the villages and assaulted the community to illegally extract ore from the gold mine, which is operated by Tung Kham Company Limited. Six villagers were severely injured and needed hospital care, while approximately 20 people had minor wounds. Despite the gravity of the attacks, only two police officers showed up at the scene long after they were alerted. The court later found two military officers guilty of assaulting the villagers and sentenced both to two years in prison.
The attack perpetrated by Mr Thanakrit happened the very same day when KRBK had requested protection from the Thai authorities. KRBK experienced several incidents of harassment incidents in December 2020 and early January 2021, when groups of unidentified men trespassed into the six villages to survey and rummage through the areas. On the latest occasion, the trespassers, who then claimed to be members of the Tung Kham Company, even came accompanied by the police when trying to enter the mine site. The communities suspect the trespassers are soldiers of the Naresuan Camp. Their presence and demeaner not only caused great discomfort and fear among the W/HRDs, but it also triggered a lack of confidence in the police and a heightened feeling of insecurity.
Protection International in Thailand calls on the international community to closely monitor the situation of the KRBK group and pressure the concerned governmental authorities to effectively and timely perform their duties to prevent any further violence against W/HRDs in Thailand.
The Royal Thai Police, the Ministry of Interior, the Governor of Loei, and the National Human Rights Commission must ensure the safety and security of KRBK, PPM and UNME Anarchy members.
The Royal Thai Police must provide an explanation for the early release of Mr Thanakrit and apologize for failing to ensure he was kept away from all witnesses and victims of his attack. The police must ensure effective security measures are provided to the KRBK group and thoroughly investigate all incidents they reported, including the role of the police in the incursion into the villages on 4 January 2021. Regarding the latter, the Royal Thai Army must also investigate the alleged involvement of soldiers from the Naresuan Camp in this case.
1 PPM is an organisation initiated by Lertsak Khamkongsak, an environmental rights defender. PPM is a leading organisation that works to strengthen the anti-mining movement in Thailand.
2 The UNME of Anarchy is a pro-democracy youth and student group of women and men human rights defenders (W/HRDs) who have been camping out near the mining entrance to provide security support to the KRBK group. The group mostly consists of women and elderly people.