Supreme Court clears former park chief in 'Billy' case

Supreme Court clears former park chief in 'Billy' case

Karen rights activist Porlajee
Karen rights activist Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen disappeared on April 17, 2014. (Photo by Sanitsuda Ekachai)

PHETCHABURI - The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld two lower-court decisions dismissing the case against the former chief of Kaeng Krachan National Park for illegally detaining Karen rights activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen.

The suit filed by Mr Porlajee's wife, Pinnapa Prueksapan, alleged that Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn and his subordinates not only were involved in the disappearance of the activist on April 17 last year, but were still holding him.

Mr Chaiwat admitted arresting Mr Porlajee for possessing wild honey, but claimed he released the activist after issuing him a formal warning.

Ms Pinnapa said Kaeng Krachan National Park officials had a conflict with her husband over the eviction of Karen people from the park. That might have led to Mr Porlajee's detention, she claimed.

The Phetchaburi Court on July 17, 2014 dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to prove Mr Chaiwat and his associates were still detaining Mr Porlajee as alleged.

On Sept 16 last year, Ms Pinnapa filed a petition with the Appeal Court.

On Feb 26, the Region 7 Appeal Court upheld the Phetchaburi Court's dismissal of Ms Pinnapa's case.

The Appeal Court ruled that the testimony of Mr Chaiwat, four park officials and two student trainees confirmed Mr Porlajee had been released and her evidence was insufficient to prove the Karen rights activist had been illegally detained.

Ms Pinnapa disagreed and petitioned the Supreme Court, asking it to overturn the lower courts' decision. She said that despite Mr Chaiwat's insistence that Mr Porlajee had been released, her husband was still missing.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the earlier decisions on the same grounds that there is no credible evidence against Mr Chaiwat, adding that the statements of new witnesses were based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence, not fact.

Ms Pinnnapa said she could not say anything but respect the court's decision. But she noted she had filed a petition with the Department of Special Investigation asking it to take up the issue for consideration as a special case.

Human rights activist Angkhana Neelapaijit, who has assisted Ms Pinnapa in the legal fight, said she hoped the DSI would accept the case for re-investigation.

Mr Chaiwat, who was present at the court for the verdict, said what is more important than the court's verdict was that he wanted everyone to know that he, as a government official responsible for the protection of forests, had been persecuted by people with vested interests in the country's natural resources.

Mr Chaiwat was transferred from his post at Kaeng Krachan National Park after the case was filed against him.

Prior to the disappearance of Mr Porlajee, Mr Chaiwat was accused of leading officials to destroy and set fire to Karen homes in Bangkloy Bon and Jai Phandin villages to evict them from the park, leading to conflicts between Karen and park officials.

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