Human Rights Watch has called on authorities to immediately find the murderer of environmental activist Prajob Naowa-opas, who was shot dead in front of witnesses in Chachoengsao on Monday.
"The cold-blooded killing of Prajob marks yet another example of the fundamental failure of Thai authorities to protect activists who risk their lives while defending their communities," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said yesterday.
"The government must undertake a serious investigation to bring those responsible for his death to justice, regardless of the status or political affiliation of the killers."
Prajob was shot several times by a gunman about 1.10pm on Monday at a garage in Phanom Sarakham district where he was waiting for mechanics to finish working on his pickup truck, police said.
The 43-year-old activist died en route to hospital. The gunman, who fired four bullets from an 11mm handgun, turned up at the scene with a companion. They fled in the same vehicle they arrived in.
Chachoengsao police said they would not rule out a business conflict or his campaign against factories polluting areas in Phanom Sarakham and Plaeng Yao districts as possible reasons for the killing.
Prajob, who was the village chief of Moo 14, tambon Nong Haen, Phanom Sarakham district, had set up a landfill company in the Central province.
But Pol Maj Gen Niwat Rattathammawat, deputy chief of Provincial Police Region 2, said on Tuesday that Prajob's active opposition to toxic waste dump sites was the probable motive.
Prajob had led villagers in a campaign exposing the dumping of toxic industrial waste in the districts since February last year. Many ponds have been filled with dangerous chemicals from factories.
According to the Chachoengsao provincial public health office, water sources and farmland have been contaminated by a wide range of toxic substances _ including carcinogenic phenol at a level 30 times the safety limit.
The dump sites are mainly located on high ground, resulting in toxic waste running off and entering waterways and ponds.
The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) decided in August to take up the issue as a special case.
Prajob knew his life was in danger after the campaign and carried two guns in his truck, Pol Maj Gen Niwat said. Police had warned him he was a target but he had not asked for protection, he said.
Pol Maj Gen Niwat said investigators believed the murderer was a professional gunman. He calmly left the car, walked toward Prajob and killed him. Professional hitmen commonly use an 11mm pistol, he added.
A security camera recorded images of the vehicle used by the killer, he said.