Justice for Chaiyaphum still undelivered
More than three years after the death of Chaiyaphum Pasae, a Lahu ethnic activist who was killed by a soldier at a checkpoint in Chiang Mai, the perpetrator(s) remain free -- and the chances of anyone being accountable for his untimely death are zero.
Some readers may remember the tragic case back in March 2017. For those who don't, Chaiyaphum, who was driving a car along the Chiang Dao-Chiang Mai road, was stopped at a military checkpoint in Ban Rin Laung, Chiang Dao district.
The soldiers then accused him of possessing narcotics and "while trying to flee the scene, he hurled a grenade at the soldier, who fired at him in self-defence". That was what the soldiers tried to convince us of.
The soldiers also claimed that they found 2,800 amphetamine pills in the vehicle, along with a grenade and a knife.
The activist, who was a songwriter and musician, as well as a campaigner against ethnic discrimination, was 17 at the time of his death.
The extrajudicial-killing caused an uproar. His family and the people who knew him did not believe the soldiers' story.
Eyewitnesses countered the soldiers' claim, saying he had no weapon and he did not try to attack the soldiers.
Friends and colleagues said they did not believe Chaiyaphum had ever been involved with drug trafficking.
The problem is the soldiers never produced evidence. CCTV footage that recorded the shooting (and alleged attack on the soldier) vanished despite assurances from high-ranking officers that they had the footage to prove the subordinate's innocence.
Now those generals are silent.
It's a nasty coincidence that another ethnic man, named Abe Sae Mu, was killed in such dubious circumstances at the same check point one month earlier.
The military also accused Abe of resisting arrest after traces of drugs were found in his body.
The family took the case to the Chiang Mai court which called for the footage. The military instead presented a hard disk!
Even so, the court issued a ruling that a soldier shot the activist and Abe to death.
The two families last year used the ruling for a petition with the Civil Court in Bangkok, demanding the military pay four million baht in compensation.
They were bitterly disappointed as the court on Monday threw out their petition.
Just like that.
Ratsada Manooratsada, the lawyer for Chaiyaphum's family, said the court judge had dismissed Chaiyaphum family's lawsuit as he believed the soldier acted in self-defence.
The lawyer said the judge was of the view that the witnesses might have stood far away from the spot, around 70 to 100 metres, and they might have not seen the weapons in Chaiyaphum's hand.
It's evident we are back to the same dilemma in the judicial system.
When small people come up against those with power, or money, the law may not be on their side.
The lawyer made a solid point when saying the court didn't take the DNA fingerprinting lab test into consideration even though it showed no biological traces of Chaiyaphum on the drug package claimed to be found in his car.
"We disagree with the ruling," said the lawyer who noted that the court did not pay enough attention to the eyewitnesses' account either.
Chaiyaphum's family can appeal the case within 30 days.
We have no idea what happened to the CCTV camera footage even though six cameras were installed at the checkpoint.
The high-ranking officers were adamant they had watched the footage and believed their subordinate did the right thing.
Over the years we have never been told who pulled the trigger or if there was any probe by the army?
Chaiyaphum's family told reporters that they were disheartened after fighting for justice for so many years.
It's just another story about how small people are always at a disadvantage in a relationship of power.
There are so many similar cases too.
Some 80 Muslim villagers of Narathiwat's Tak Bai died after being piled up on a truck while being transported from a protest site to a military camp 16 years ago.
No one was held accountable for the tragic deaths.
The Tak Bai community commemorated the violence this week.
Family members of those poor victims in the southern province told the media they had no heart to fight for the truth as they knew it was useless.
The perpetrators may never be found and punished. Indigenous villagers are marginalised in our society.
The inequality gap is too wide, and at times they are treated with discrimination, while in Chaiyaphum's case, it was a case of the use of excessive force against someone in a lower position.
It's indeed disheartening to see these small people struggling very hard in the system only to receive injustice.
This injustice is one of the reasons that has driven thousands of young people to join pro-democracy activists on the streets in Bangkok in their dreams for a just and fair society where the rule of law is applied to everybody.
Those at the top of the social structure should know we need change, and it must be made soon to ensure the transformation is peaceful.
If not, an upheaval looks inevitable.
Paritta Wangkiat is a Bangkok Post columnist.