Released on 18 Oct 2016
Two land activists summoned by Chum Phae police after posting about the visits to their home by military officials prior to the Constitutional Referendum in August
On 17 October 2016, two land activists Mr. Sarayuth Ritthipin, reporter of the E-san Land Reform News http://www.esaanlandreformnews.com/ and Mr. Chadet Kaewsing, villager of Ban Sam Phak Nam, have been summoned by the Chum Phae Police Station in Khon Kaen dated 3 October 2016, to report themselves on a criminal suit. It turned out that the 2nd Infantry Division, the 8th Infantry Regiment by 1LT Lertchaijrung Witthisan, had alleged that Mr. Sarayuth, alleged offender no.1, and Mr. Chadet, alleged offender no.2, had committed a libel offence and bringing into a computer system false or forged information, partly or as a whole. They were asked to report themselves to the Deputy Superintendent (investigation) of the Chum Phae police station on 25 October 2016 at 13.00.
The charges could have stemmed from their posting the information about the incidence in which at least eight officials led by the military had come to meet the villagers on 4 and 5 August, prior to the 7 August Constitutional Referendum in Ban Sam Phak Nam. The news post was headlined “Military raided home asking to meet Phu Pha Man land activists”.
There has been an increase in prosecutions against human rights defenders based on libel and computer crime charges. From human rights perspective, it is a judicial harassment aiming to incur more burden on the HRDs as they have to seek help from lawyers to defend themselves. It has also created fear among the HRDs and villagers affected by land issues. Previously, authorities had been cooperating well with the local community to manage the land right issue regarding the land in the Phu Pha Man National Park under the collaboration known as “Chom Pah Project”. The recently launched Forest Reclamation Policy has reignited a land dispute in Ban Sam Phak Nam. The latest legal action against the two land activists will not help to solve land issues among the destitute villagers but it will unnecessarily make the conflict more complicated and create more burdens for persons involved in the justice process including the police, public prosecutor, and the court.
For more information, please contact
Mr. Somnuk Tumsupap, attorney of the E-san Land Reform News, 081-8428754
Ms. Pornpen Khongkachonkiet 086-7093000
Annex I: Post in the E-san Land Reform News agency website
During 4 and 5 August 2016, military officials from the Maha Sakdiphonsep Army Camp, the 2nd Infantry Division, the 8th Infantry Regiment, the Assistant to the District Chief Officer of Phu Pha Man and police from the Chum Phae police station have gone to the house, no. 488, Moo 11, Tambon Na Nong Thum, Chum Phae District, Khonkaen which belonged to Mrs. Boonrod Kaewsing, 60 years, mother of a land activist.
According to Mr. Chadet Kaewsing, 29 years, son of Mrs. Boonrod, the officials had come here to look for him twice, on 4 and 5 of August 2016, but he was not at home then. His mother said they were looking for him since he had caused damage to their reputation by posting a message on his Facebook on 13 August 2016 around 21.30 claiming that three half-uniformed military officials with firearms from the 2nd Infantry Division, the 8th Infantry Regiment 2, Chum Phae District, Khon Kaen, had come to meet local community leaders in Ban Nong Chan, Tambon Na Nong Thum, Chum Phae District, Khonkaen during nighttime to ask for information about a local situation. The visits could have been from a result of an action on 12 June by local villagers to demand their right to land and their joining the Walk for Rights group. The military officials had invited core leaders of the community to meet inside the military camp, though they did not fix the date and time then .
Mr. Chadet further revealed that he had not posted such message, but still the military wanted to pin the issue on him. He had the impression that the military wanted to harass him. When the villagers asked them back about the name of the Facebook account in which the post had been made, they simply said “Plerng”, which was not his name and he had never opened a Facebook account using such name. So he thought the military wanted to get him into trouble. His mother also told him that on 7 August 2016, after casting his vote, he should leave the village immediately. He could not understand what had happened since he is hardly involved with politics and has been working to advocate the right to land, particularly for the community near his hometown which had been in dispute with the Phu Pha Man National Park’s authority.
After the launch of the Forest Reclamation Policy on 2 June 2015, the Chief of the Phu Pha Man National Park had sent a letter to the village claiming that awarding of land title deeds was to begin. The community was concerned that it was part of the forest reclamation policy and that the state shall implement the cabinet resolution made on 30 June 1998, which had been issued without public participation. Therefore he and representatives from various committees had gone to talk with the Chief of the National Park, Chum Phae’s District Chief Officer, and his deputies. Some solution could be forged, though lately the authorities have gravitated toward reverting to the previous solution which has been opposed to by local people and it had led to a number of consultations.
“The officials did not allow the villagers to take photos. The picture given to him by a neighbor was taken from a rather faraway spot. That the military, police and administrative officials had gone to look for him at home had caused much more concern. Most importantly, the officials had taken the photo of the house all around. They had asked to enter the house, but his mother did not give them the permission. His mother normally suffers from high blood pressure and stress. The incidence has simply made her more stressful. She could longer eat or sleep. She is worried that her son would be arrested and charged on some offenses. He still wants to continue his land right activism to defend the right to land in his hometown although he feels concerned about his mother. The incidence was a violation of human rights by trying to harass and threaten him making him fear. He wants himself to be treated fairly” said Chadet.
Reported by Mr. Sarayuth Ritthipin
Posted: 06 August 2016
Annex II : Basic information about land dispute at Ban Sam Phak Nam,
Moo 11, Tambon Na Nong Thum, Chum Phae District, Khonkaen
Issue: The Phu Pha Man National Park was declared over the land traditionally used by the community for farming and residual purpose
Ban Sam Phak Nam is located in Moo 11, Tambon Na Nong Thum, Chum Phae District, Khonkaen. During 1950-1961, a number of villagers from various provinces in the Northeast have migrated there to occupy the land for their farming and living. Initially, they have settled in what is now called “Sam Khaen”. They have also spread into other adjacent areas based on their clan and various communities have sprang up including Sam Phak Nam, Sam Khun, Sam Bon, etc.
- In 1963, villagers in Ban Sam Khaen were forced to relocate by the order of the government led by Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat; they have then scattered to live in adjacent villages. The original land was then declared the Dong Lan National Forest Reserve.
- During 1985-1986, the authorities led by the 10th company, the 25th Regiment of Rangers, have gone there to reorganize the whole community. They have pulled the scattering villages and lumped them together in one community called Ban Sam Phak Nam composed of about 280 families.
- During 1991-1992, the government has launched a program to redistribute land to poor villagers in the denuded forest reserve area. The villagers in Ban Sam Phak Nam were then relocated to a new site and they had to suffer a lot in their new setting since they had to share the land formerly occupied by another group of villagers. As a result, the villagers have been opposing the land redistribution program in the Northeast and elsewhere, until the program was shelved in 1992. The villagers of Ban Sam Phak Nam, approximately 73 families, have returned to their original land, but by that time the land in Ban Sam Phak Nam has already been declared as part of the Phu Pha Man National Park.
- Number of affected families: 107 covering 2,500 rai (4 million square meters) of land
The villagers’ proposals
- Prior to the coup, the villagers proposed that the authorities address their lack of access to land for farming and residential purpose by proceeding with the community land title deed project within six months.
- After the coup, the villagers demand that the Forest Reclamation Policy be shelved and the cabinet resolution made on 30 April 1998 be used as a guideline to determine their land for farming and housing.