Paying A High Price for Thailand

A Thai court recently ordered local authorities in Samul Sakhon Province to shut down the operations of a local coal company for damaging environment.

INDONESIA

Sabtu, 03 Agus 2013 15:05 WIB

Author

Ron Corben

Paying A High Price for Thailand

Thailand, Thongnak Sawekchinda, environment, Ron Corben

A Thai court recently ordered local authorities in Samul Sakhon Province to shut down the operations of a local coal company for damaging environment.

Villagers have welcomed this as a major victory after years fighting in the courts.

But it came at a high price.

Environmental campaigner Thongnak Sawekchinda was shot dead in July 2011 for leading the protest.

The truck drives around the community in Samut Sakhon province.

It’s calling out for friends and supporters to come to the anniversary of the murder of a prominent environmental campaigner Thongnak Sawekchinda.

Thongnak’s house is on the villages main road.

His wife Jomkwan Sawekchinda has placed a photo of her late husband on the exact spot he was killed.

“I was in the house when I heard what I thought was either gunshots or firecrackers. I realized the sounds must have been gunshots. I ran out to see what was going on and I saw my mother and my sister. I was afraid someone had been shot.”

In front of the house, she found her husband shot by two gunmen on a motorcycle.

He died shortly after he arrived at a hospital.

Thongnak was an outspoken protest leader who led villagers to fight against a local coal company Technique Team for damaging environment.

“The coal operations were affecting people and the community like lots of pollution and dust. It was difficult breathing; the eco-system was affected, crops too; so the community bonded together to stand up and protest.”

Jomkwan says, they were always under threat...

“He was threatened with his life a couple of months before the incident happened. Relatives received the warnings and they were passed on to us. The threats included kidnapping family members or being shot in the head. But there were no telephone calls to the home, we only found out through the relatives.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Thongnak is one of the more than 20 campaigners have been killed since 2001.
 
The most recent case is the murder of environmentalist Prajob Nao-opas who led locals to expose the dumping of toxic waste in Chachoengsao province.

Environmental lawyer Srisuwan Janya blames the collusion between business and political interests for the killings.

“When business and politicians get together, the people’s interests are not taken into account. And then there is great danger for those who disagree. Rom the statistics I have gathered in the last 12 years there were fatalities among conservationists and environmentalists amounting to 23 people.”

Human rights lawyer Somchai Homlaor says activists are often seen as stumbling blocks for development.

“The government pays less attention to the protection of the human rights defender in Thailand, - they are activist – they are environmentalist – and they are seen as the trouble maker – the one who protest the development.”

Thailand has a long and grim reputation where influential people hire gunmen.

With a weak judicial process, many say masterminds have escaped justice.

Pasuk Pongpaichit is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University.

“It’s very rare that the gunmen get punished or the people behind these kinds of contracts get punished properly. And I think there is something wrong with the judicial process. We need to reform our judicial system.”

But the much needed reform in the judicial system are unlikely to happen soon, says Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

“Really at the end of the day, the elite groups and the corrupt abusive government people behind them know who the activists are. They assess the situation and of they can go after them they will and sometimes its starts with intimidation and sometimes it ends with murder.”

So for now, the court’s verdict that backed the people at Samul Sakhon province is a bitter sweet victory...

Jomkwan says she’s glad that her husband Thongnak Sawekchinda has helped improve the lives of the local community.

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