Justice due for slain activist
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Justice due for slain activist

It is exactly 12 months since young Lahu rights activist and artist Chaiyaphum Pasae was shot dead at a military-run checkpoint near the Thai-Myanmar border in Chiang Mai's Chiang Dao district. His premature death -- he was only 17 at the time -- is still shrouded in mystery.

The military claimed they stopped Chaiyaphum, who was travelling with a friend, at the checkpoint at Rinluang village to conduct a search. In a bid to escape arrest, the military claimed the activist tried to throw a hand grenade at the soldiers on duty, prompting one to open fire.

They also claimed 2,800 methamphetamine pills were found in the back of his car and that they could trace suspicious "drug money" transactions from Chaiyaphum's bank accounts.

His travelling companion was thrown behind bars on a drug charge and is still in Chiang Mai prison because his family has no money to bail him out. If the young man were indeed a drug dealer, surely he would have enough money to pay for bail.

Rights activists have offered legal assistance to the young man. His family, however, has declined the offer, presumably out of fear for the safety of their son.

Chaiyaphum's family, on the other hand, have complained of state intimidation during the investigation into the activist's death.

As the case drew public attention, some cabinet ministers and senior military officers stood by the Chiang Mai soldiers, which sent out the wrong message that extra-judicial killings are justifiable.

The 3rd Army Region chief issued a by-now notorious statement saying that if he had been the soldier who shot Chaiyaphum, he would have used an automatic weapon. After being struck by fierce criticism, the military made an about face and guaranteed a fair investigation.

But the claims of Chaiyaphum's wrongdoing were challenged by rights advocates and those who had worked with him, in the belief the slain activist and his friend had been framed. False drug charges are not unusual in Thailand.

Chaiyaphum's untimely death reminded many of the nightmare war on drugs in 2003 during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, which saw more than 2,300 people slain in extra-judicial killings across the country. Some districts in Chiang Mai became hot spots for this war, which literally gave the the authorities a licence to kill. As a result, many innocent souls fell victims to state violence.

It is disappointing that little more has come to light since the first week after the young man's death. The military said its CCTV cameras captured images of the shooting and this would help clear up doubts about the case, but then refused to reveal it. After public pressure, the military last May handed the footage to police in a hard disk drive -- which was not normal procedure.

More importantly, the footage, which amounts to key evidence, has never been shown to the public. The many claims the military has made without providing this evidence have fuelled public suspicion that foul play was involved.

In a media interview this week, a human rights lawyer cited a prosecutor as saying the footage of the shooting disappeared from the military's hard disk drive and has never been used in the probe. Court proceedings began last September and are set to resume next week.

The military is obliged to handle the case fairly and refrain -- or abandon -- any attempts at a cover-up, as this would taint the nation's image. The slain activist and his family deserve justice, which is long overdue.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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